Research shows that transferring credits from a community college to a four-year institution can be an uphill battle.
Only 23% of community college students who intend to attain a bachelor's degree successfully earn a one within eight years. And on average, students lose 43% of their academic credits when they transfer.
One reason could be that many transfer students graduate with a glut of credits that don't count towards a bachelor's degree, finds a study from Columbia University's Community College Research Center (CCRC).
Researchers at the CCRC analyzed transcript data of community college students who transferred and earned bachelor's degrees from a public four-year institution within six years, writes Dian Schaffhauser for Campus Technology.
The study identified two reasons transfer students earn excess credits: 1) students take too many lower-level courses and not enough upper-division courses; and 2) students are often required to retake their 100-level math courses at their four-year institution.
Transfer students often find that many of the credits they took at their community colleges—especially math and science credits—do not meet criteria set by their new institutions, wrote Danielle Douglas-Gabriel for the Washington Post in 2017. Instead, community college students lose time and money earning course credits that aren't valid at their four-year college—and these challenges can fuel student attrition.
Researchers did uncover a third, unexpected culprit of excess credits: bad advice, adds Schaffhauser.
According to the study, advisors often tell community college students to frontload their general education requirements and to hold off on exploring specific majors until they enroll in a four-year institution. But focusing solely on gen-ed requirements during community college "is bad advice" that leads to excess credits, the researchers write.
Instead, students should explore potential majors while in community college, writes Schaffhauser. When students choose a major early on, they can knock out their discipline's gen-ed requirements during community college so they're ready to take upper-division courses once they transfer, she explains.
Also see: 5 tactics to accelerate transfer student growth
Stronger partnerships between four-year institutions and community colleges can smooth out the transfer process, the study suggests. Early advising and automated credit articulation, in particular, allow students to get and stay on track towards bachelor’s degrees, writes Jessica Warren for EAB's Continuing and Online Education Forum.
For example, the University of Central Florida (UCF), which recruits heavily from the Florida community college system, hosts a program called "DirectConnect." Advisors present financial aid and transfer admissions workshops at community college orientations, which encourage students to consider transfer options and connect students with university advisors from day one, writes Warren. Through DirectConnect, students not only find out exactly which courses qualify for their major of choice, but also receive paperwork reminders and check-ups from two sources, which help to keep students on track.
"Community college advisors are playing an increasingly important role in helping transfer students identify and visit multiple transfer-friendly four-year colleges and universities to find the one that best fits their needs," says Scott Booth, a transfer student success researcher at EAB.
Keep reading: How to guarantee transfer students will reject you
"These prospects should not be taken for granted by four-year institutions," he cautions. The four-year institutions that will be best positioned to receive transfer students are those that invest in academic pathways to minimize credit loss, provide well-conceived transfer event strategies throughout the year to communicate timelines, and offer resources to navigate the application process, explains Booth (Schaffhauser, Campus Technology, 3/1/18; CCRC study, accessed 3/1/18).
Learn more about transfer student success
7 ways four-year colleges can support transfer student success
Why 15 colleges partnered to support transfer students
How these 6 colleges collaborate to improve transfer student retention
Here's how both Obama and Trump "failed" at college
7 trail-blazing leaders you didn't know were transfer students
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