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Tenured Faculty at Community College Favorably Impact Student Transfer Decisions

State articulation and transfer agreements do little to increase the number of community college students who transfer to four-year institutions, but having tenured faculty at the community college level helps, according to a recent study conducted by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

The study found that institutional factors such as favorable faculty-to-student ratios and high percentages of tenured faculty at two-year colleges correspond favorably with student attainment and completion rates.

For every 10 percent increase in the number of tenured faculty members at a two-year college, students were 4 percent more likely to transfer to a four-year college, the report says.

Simply awarding more faculty members tenure will not increase an institution’s transfer rates, says Dr. Betheny Gross, a research consultant at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education and author of the report.

“There is not an automatic linkage. The idea is if you recruit a faculty with the idea of tenure, they might promote [students] on to a four-year college.”

Conventional policies that provide data collection systems to monitor transfers, statewide articulation guides providing concrete descriptions of the transfer process and a common set of courses are widespread but provide little incentive for students with ambitions for transferring, Gross says.

“We didn’t find much in the policies that seem to correspond with higher rates of transferring or earning a bachelor’s degree,” says Gross, noting that all agreements are not created equal.

Policies such as common course numbering eliminate students’ confusion over which community college courses are not credit-earning, which are credit-earning but not transferable and which are credit-earning and transferable have proven to be beneficial in advancing transfer rates. However, they are only offered in four states.

“Florida, for instance, has a very sophisticated system of numbering their courses, making sure that every state institution is working along the course numbering system. In this, we saw a tiny, tiny difference [in transfer rates],” Gross insists.

Gross asserts that the decision to attend a two-year college is often an economic one. Students enroll in community colleges, under the impression that they will save money and transfer their credits. State articulation agreements, prior to Gross’ research, were seemingly an added incentive for advancing one’s studies.

That, however, is being challenged.

“The most significant predictor of whether a student goes from a community college to a four-year college is aspiration — whether the student wants to transfer and whether they have the academic skills to do so.

Surprisingly, the study found small positive effects for transfer agreements concentrated amongst Hispanic students. According to the report, the odds of transferring are higher for Hispanics who live in a state with a transfer policy than for Hispanics who live in states without such policies. Such policies had no positive impact on first-generation and African-American students.

The reason, at this point, is inexplicable, says Gross. “It is a puzzling result.”

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