Increasing community college transfers

An under-tapped transfer population

By Jessica Warren

Community colleges enroll nearly half of America’s degree-seeking students, with over 7.4 million students enrolled across 1,123 institutions (American Association of Community Colleges). Four-year institutions that enroll community college transfer students can boost enrollments, build institutional diversity, and grow lower-division capacity. Unfortunately, many four-year institutions fail to attract community college student tranfser enrollments.

Students often seek to begin their higher education careers at community colleges and then transfer to four-year institutions. While more than 60% of first-time community college students say they would like to transfer to a four-year institution, only about 33% do. In addition, many first-time community college students do not see four-year institutions as a viable option from the beginning due to tuition costs, unmet prerequisites, or family and work responsibilities.

Degree completion programs help to enroll successful community college transfer students

Community college students increasingly see online programs at four-year institutions as potential channels to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Through online 2+2 and adult degree completion programs, four-year universities can expand their transfer populations. Online degree completion programs allow students who completed their associate’s degrees at community colleges, as well as students who were unable to finish their degrees, to earn a bachelor’s degree more quickly than in traditional programs.

Early communication with four-year advisors for current community college students, intensive advising for prospective adult students, and retroactive degree agreements with community colleges improve success rates for community college transfer students and create mutually beneficial partnerships between four-year institutions and community colleges. The following three strategies can help four-year institutions recruit and support community college transfer students.

Early advising in online 2+2 bachelor’s degree program partnerships

Advisors at four-year institutions can help to meet community colleges students’ needs and facilitate the transfer process by providing early advising while students are still enrolled at community colleges. Early advising and automated credit articulation allow students to get and stay on track towards bachelor’s degrees.

The University of Central Florida (UCF), which recruits heavily from the Florida community college system, hosts a program called "DirectConnect.” UCF advisors share advising caseloads with community college staff during students’ sophomore year. Advisors also 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. Through DirectConnect, students know not only exactly what courses qualify for their major of choice, but also receive paperwork reminders and check-ups from two sources, which helps to keep students on track.

Wrap-Around Advising Keeps Two-Year Students on Track

Wrap-Around Advising Keeps Two-Year Students on Track

Intensive prospective student advising in online adult degree completion programs

While early 2+2 advising works well for students at the beginning of their community college careers, students towards the end of or even years past their community college enrollment also seek to complete bachelor’s degrees.

Assign enrollment coaches to help degree completion students determine the best educational path and to guide students through the application and enrollment processes. Enrollment coaches (e.g., dedicated advisors, enrollment advisors) answer application and enrollment questions and help students through every step of the application and enrollment process. Once enrolled, degree completion students may also require dedicated advisors trained to help students overcome financial, academic, organizational, and emotional challenges that often arise for online adult degree completion students. Advisors familiar with degree completion students’ challenges can better direct students to other dedicated staff members who can serve their needs (e.g., financial advisors, academic tutors).

Video: Strategic interventions to encourage retention in adult learners

Online Degree Completion Program Recruitment and Enrollment Process

Online Degree Completion Program Recruitment and Enrollment Process

Retroactive associate’s degree conferral

Community colleges may be wary of partnerships with four-year institutions, because students who transfer to four-year institutions before they complete associate’s degrees weaken community colleges’ completion figures. In an educational climate in which public perception and institutional funding increasingly focus on outputs, lower completion rates sound like a sour deal for community colleges. In addition, administrators at community colleges may fear that their students will not complete bachelor’s degrees at the four-year institution, and will have spent significant time and money without earning either degree.

In recent years, several two- and four-year institutions have developed partnerships that retroactively award associate’s degrees to transfer students. These agreements target students who transfer from a community college to a four-year institution just shy of earning their associate’s degree. After reaching a combined total of 60 credits through university and community college coursework, the community college partner awards the student an associate’s degree. Reverse articulation agreements can also benefit online adult degree completion programs. Community colleges may collaboratively market degree completion programs to students who previously took community college courses if it could lead to degree completions.

Reverse Articulation Agreement Benefits

Reverse Articulation Agreement Benefits

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