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California Students Face Hurdles to Transfer Success

A new survey found that California colleges and universities could be doing a much better job of helping students move from their community colleges into four-year programs. A report of the findings asserted that transfer students need those institutions to develop "a more holistic and integrated approach" to help them reach their goal of earning bachelor's degrees. The transfer process will become even more important, researchers observed, as higher numbers of high school graduates choose to pursue community colleges closer to home than attend the online programs delivered by the state's four-year schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study was undertaken by The Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges, which surveyed and interviewed more than 800 students at 31 California campuses. The research was part of a multi-year project funded by College Futures Foundation. An earlier phase in the study found that over a five-year period, almost 300,000 students had made significant progress toward transfer, but couldn't make the move to a university.

In the newest study, most students (92 percent) reported that they were pursuing a bachelor's degree to increase their career options and make more money (86 percent). But students identified four factors that were dampening their ability to transfer:

  • Affordability. Three-quarters of students described the cost of university tuition as "very challenging." Almost half said it was the biggest challenge they faced as they considered transfer. And two-thirds noted that living expenses weighed heavily in their worries.
  • School-life balance, mentioned by 58 percent of students. Four-year schools do a poor job of helping students align course offerings with off-campus responsibilities, the report stated. As one student told researchers, "I have to take calculus for business ... The problem is [my college] doesn't offer [it] at night or on the weekends. It's a morning class at [the main campus] ... That may work for a millennial, but not for someone with a full-time job."
  • Understanding the steps needed for transfer. While some students suggested that their colleges were proactive and "effectively reaching out about transfer," a greater share of students said "significant self-reliance" was required "to navigate often confusing transfer pathways."
  • Lacking a support network that could help individual students maneuver the transfer process, while also "boosting their financial awareness, fostering school-life balance and helping them navigate the transfer path."

For each factor, the report offered "areas of opportunity," where institutions could improve their practices. For example, in the area of financial concerns, the report suggested that school representatives sit down with students and help them understand the total cost of getting a bachelor's degree as well as what financial supports are available at the institution and from other sources; and then to convene workshops and sessions to help students fill out aid forms and make sense of financial aid award letters.

The report concluded with a call for both two-year and four-year schools to participate in the effort of "building the transfer capacity" for more students. That's a three-step process that includes reaching out to students who are close to transfer right now, quantifying the transfer population on the campus, and engaging students as partners in redesigning the transfer process.

The 28-page study, "Students Speak Their Truth About Transfer: What They Need to Get Through the Gate," is openly available on the RP Group website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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