College Completion

Research: Pathways, Prioritization and Tailored Advising Boost Transfer Rates

Research: Pathways, Prioritization and Tailored Advising Boost Transfer Rates 

A newly published research project undertook to understand what works in partnerships between community colleges and four-year institutions to help students who start at the former with the intention of transferring to the latter in order to obtain a bachelor's degree.

As described in "Takes Two to Tango: Essential Practices of Highly Effective Transfer Partnerships," success is hard to find. While 80 percent of students in community colleges expect to go for a bachelor's degree, within six years just a third transfer to a four-year school, and less than 15 percent earn their bachelor's. The best of intentions come face to face with a number of hurdles: the loss of college credits during the transfer; problems with social and academic integration; slower accumulation of credits than those who go right into a four-year college from high school; and a lack of momentum for continuing with school once the two-year degree is earned.

Plenty of literature has examined the relationship between the two- and four-year schools as it relates to the transfer process, the report noted. For example, the College Board's Initiative on Transfer Policy and Practice has published recommendations for creating "transfer-affirming cultures." So has Jack Kent Cooke Foundation's Community College Transfer Initiative.

This latest project used data from the National Student Clearinghouse for the 2007 fall cohort of first-time-in-college community college students nationwide to identify those partnerships of two- and four-year institutions that were more effective than expected in helping community college students transfer to a four-year school and earn their bachelor's degree. The researchers then visited six sets of high-performing institutions in Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Washington, where they interviewed 350-plus transfer students, faculty and staff.

The high-performing community colleges were identified by three characteristics: They had more than 30 transfer-outs from the fall 2007 cohort, which was the median number for those schools in the data set; they had a high bachelor's completion rate above the national median; and their results were on the positive side when the researchers subtracted the model-predicted completion rate from the college's actual completion rate. The four-year partners all received 15 percent or more of their community college transfers from one of the top community colleges and were one of the community colleges' top five transfer destinations. The researchers focused their interviews on those partnership schools where the difference between the actual bachelor's completion rate compared to the expected completion rate was highest.

What they found were strong transfer practices that pursue three broad goals:

  • Making transferring a priority, by including transfer in the institutional mission, investing in resources and using data to make the case to improve transfer;
  • Setting clear programmatic pathways with aligned high-quality instruction, built through institutional collaboration, preparing students for success with upper-level coursework and regularly updating and improving program maps; and
  • Providing tailored transfer advising at both the two- and four-year levels.

The full report is openly available on the Community College Review site, part of Sage Journals.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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