Going to a community college and then transferring to a four-year school is often considered one of the best ways to earn a degree for much less money.
More students are choosing community college early on. Enrollment last fall at community colleges increased 2.6%, far more than any other type of institution, according to the latest research from the National Student Clearinghouse.
However, nationally, only about a third of students who start at community colleges eventually transfer to four-year schools, and less than half of those transfer students earn a bachelor’s degree in six years.
That means only 16% of all community college students earn a bachelor’s degree, according to recent reports from Columbia University’s Community College Research Center, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, and the National Student Research Center. .
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“Students often believe their chances of success are much greater than they really are; that’s terribly unfortunate,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program.
Furthermore, among low-income students and students of color, the numbers are even starker: 11% of low-income students transfer and complete their bachelor’s degrees in six years, for black students the share drops to just 9%.
Meanwhile, 69% of students who start at a four-year public university complete their degree in six years. At four-year private schools, the completion rate is 78%.
“Too many students are failed by policies and practices that dictate whether and how effectively students transfer from community colleges to universities, particularly students from historically underserved groups,” said Tatiana Velasco-Rodriguez, the reports’ lead author and researcher. Community associate. University Research Center.
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The transfer process can work, experts also say.
Research shows that students who complete an associate’s degree at a community college before transferring have higher success rates, as do students who begin their studies in high school through dual enrollment.
According to Velasco-Rodriguez, students who start on a more structured path and benefit from additional resources and advice ultimately achieve better results.
To improve transfer outcomes across the board, “we need to apply it to other students,” he said.
However, that responsibility should fall on colleges and universities, rather than high school seniors and college freshmen, he added. “This is a call to the higher education system to figure out how to serve its students.”
State Policies Can Help
Some states already have better systems to support the transfer process, and at least 35 states even have policies ensuring that students with an associate’s degree can then transfer to a four-year state school as a junior.
“There are states like Florida that have very good transfer policies and tend to do better than the national average,” said Wyner of the Aspen Institute.
To transfer to the University of Central Florida, for example, community college students enroll in a program called UCF Connect and are guaranteed admission if they earn their associate’s degree.
Still, many states don’t track students’ performance once they transfer to a four-year institution, experts also noted, which is key to improving outcomes across the board.
“The real question is how community colleges and four-year universities can partner to deliver on their promise,” Wyner said.
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