Foundation Highlights Practices for Getting Community College Students Into Selective Four-Year Schools

WASHINGTON – LaChaun Anderson was not a stellar student in high school. At the community college level, she continued to struggle. But as a transfer student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Anderson turned things around, making the dean’s list and studying abroad in China.

During a conference hosted by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Thursday, Anderson said the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (CSTEP) made all the difference.

CSTEP is one of eight transfer-student programs funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation as part of a larger initiative to increase the number of moderate- to low-income community college students matriculating into highly-selective colleges and universities. CSTEP guarantees low- and moderate-income students admission into UNC-Chapel Hill if they enroll at one of three local community colleges affiliated with the university and complete their program successfully.

Today, Anderson is the executive assistant to the CEO of Bennett Aerospace where she works on creating new international markets.

To highlight programs such as CSTEP, the foundation on Thursday released “Partnerships that Promote Success: The Evaluation of the Community College Transfer Initiative,” a study of successful programs and policies that have assisted talented lower‐income community college students to transfer to the nation’s most selective institutions. The study includes an evaluation of the foundation’s Community College Transfer Initiative (CCTI), which identifies effective practices to recognize high‐achieving lower‐income students in community colleges and improve their transfer experience to increase their likelihood of college success.

Over the last five years, the foundation has equipped nearly 2,000 students from across the country with the financial resources and institutional support they need to be successful at institutions such as the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, Bucknell University, and Cornell University.

The eight institutions participating in the CCTI reportedly improved their ability to recruit qualified students and support their success, according to the foundation. The study revealed that the institutions enrolled the nearly 2,000 additional lower‐income community college students, exceeding the goals of the initiative. Among the CCTI students surveyed, 41 percent were the first in their family to attend a four‐year college, and many of them would not have considered attending a selective institution without the encouragement of CCTI programs.

The report also revealed that the participants in the initiative were non-traditional students who tended to be two years older than “traditional” students. Many had full-time jobs and some had families.  

Transfer students are often a forgotten group, said Emily Froimson, director of higher education programs for the foundation. “The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is doing this conference to share information about what these two-year and four-year colleges, particularly highly-selective colleges, can do to increase transfer opportunities for their students.”

An integral part of the transfer student success equation is money, conference attendees said.

“There sometimes is limited financial aid for transfer students. The institution will basically have what’s left over for transfer students. We want institutions to make this population a priority,” Froimson said.

An integral part of recruiting and retaining transfer students is implementing support systems that address issues of housing, transportation, child care and financial aid prior to enrollment, the foundation report noted.

During the conference, Anderson and other students involved with the initiative emphasized that transfer students need layers of institutional support to be successful at highly-selective institutions.

“The girls in my classes had read things that I had never heard of,” said Consuelo Nelson, a transfer student who graduated from Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., and is now pursuing a master’s degree in public policy. “There were times when I felt very alone. But, because I was fortunate enough to have peers who had gone through the program, they, and my professors, convinced me that I could do it.”

The peer mentorship piece is critical, Nelson said. “Connect people to each other. Let students see and meet others who have been successful and advise faculty to reach out to students who might be falling through the cracks.”

Upon enrolling at UNC-Chapel Hill, Anderson’s initial sentiments were ones of doubt. “I can’t do this,” she thought. “These people are smarter than me.” Anderson, however, found encouragement in meeting regularly with other transfer students and swapping stories.

Colleges and universities should also work to eliminate the “Scarlett T” or the stigma of being associated with transfer students.

To combat that stigma, Aaron Fulkerson, a transfer student who also graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill, recommends implementing a CSTEP-like program.

“The hardest thing that I have ever done in my life is transfer to Carolina and be successful there. If you don’t have a program like CSTEP, I would suggest putting a program like that in place,” he said.

Dr. Susan Lanspery, one of the report’s principal investigators and a social scientist at Brandeis University’s Center for Youth and Communities, recommends changing the connotation of support systems as a way of alleviating any stigma.

Support centers and systems should not be characterized as remediation mechanisms for struggling students but a place and resource that strong students can utilize to become stronger, Lanspery said.