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2013 December 23 - 12:00 am

POV: Clearing Barriers, Navigating Detours:Texas Students Chart Paths To Successful Transfers

Martha M.Ellis

Policymakers, elected officials, education and business leaders are focusing attention on the role of community colleges as pathways to obtaining a baccalaureate degree. The low transfer rate from community college to universities is a national issue. There is recognition that the path from community college to university is a difficult journey. Various states have sought to improve the transfer process through legislation. Results have been mixed.

Nationally, one in five U.S. Ph.D. graduates attended a community college during their academic pathway. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, 45 percent of baccalaureate degree holders attended a community college.

In Texas, that number is 78 percent. Texas community college students who complete at least 30 semester credit hours at the community college do as well as native university students in university GPA and graduation numbers after transfer. Unfortunately, only 27 percent of qualified community college students actually transfer. This means capable and quality talent is being lost.

To gain understanding in transfer readiness and institutional receptivity for the general academic institutions in Texas, focus groups at nine general academic institutions were conducted in 2008 and 2012. The goal of the focus group research was to understand what knowledge, actions, and attitudes students employ to transfer successfully.

The participants were student volunteers who had transferred from a community college and were successfully progressing at the university. Males, females, traditional (18-24 years), and non-traditional (over 25 years) college ages were equally represented in the 124 participants. The ethnic makeup was 47 percent Latino, 38 percent White, 8 percent Asian, and 7 percent African American. Forty-six percent of the participants were first in their families to attend college. Seventy percent of the students received some form of financial aid at the community college, while 85 percent were receiving some form of financial aid at the university. Twenty-six majors were identified by the students with psychology and business management being the top choices. Students had transferred from 30 different community colleges.

Students transferred to the university with a range of eight to 125 semester credit hours. Fifty-two percent of the students reported that 100 percent of their hours transferred into the university. Forty-eight percent reported that all equivalent credit hours were applied toward their respective degrees by the university.

What We Learned

Who or what is motivating students to transfer and complete a baccalaureate degree? Successful transfer students are:


Realistic about expectations, have a clear pathway and are dedicated to a goal;

Not dependent upon encouragement from family and friends to achieve their baccalaureate degree or beyond, but appreciate such encouragement;

Motivated by the knowledge that a baccalaureate degree is necessary for their career or graduate school goal; and,

Motivated by being a role model for family.

What attitudes do students have about loss of semester credit hours upon transfer? Successful transfer students express:

A depth of understanding about transfer hours and the limitations of acceptance They understand the loss of hours when they changed majors, took coursework outside of the degree plan, completed multiple degrees or completed hours beyond the transfer limit;

Gratitude for the community college experience that allowed them to explore fields of study and expand knowledge about personal interests;

Distress at loss of hours when statutes such as the Core Curriculum, Texas Common Course Numbering System, and articulation agreements were not honored; and,

Anger when they received incorrect advice at the community college about selection of courses, had to retake a course at the university or were not given a reason for the course not being accepted.

How did students obtain knowledge needed to transfer and be successful at the university? Successful transfer students:

Access every source of information available including websites, advisors, faculty, friends, peers, and print materials;

Ask and ask again;

Utilize email as an important method of communicating with advisors due to time and distance constraints;

Understand that there are too many students and too few advisors at the community college and the university;

Are not thwarted by poor customer service, poor advising or being routed from office to office.

What behaviors are common among successful transfer students? Successful transfer students:

Find champions on every community college and university campus These champions include faculty, advisors, staff members in various departments, and administrators.

Are engaged in the community college and university. These students utilize academic support labs, tutoring, online resources, supplemental instruction, health centers, fitness centers, and career services;

Reach out to faculty during office hours and by email;

Interact with peers almost entirely around academic endeavors through honors programs, departmental major activities or clubs associated with their chosen field of study;

State that the rigor of the curriculum at the university was the natural next step or the natural progression into upper level work.

What can community colleges and universities do to improve the transfer process? Successful transfer students state:

Customer service needs to be improved by eliminating outright “rude” behavior, “run around” processes, and having more “enthusiasm” in outreach;

Communication within institutions, between institutions, and with students, needs to be more responsive;

Professional development for advisors and financial aid officers is imperative;

Transfer students, as student ambassadors back to the respective community college, are a promising practice;

Community colleges need to push students to transfer, and universities need to reach out to students;

Information regarding all aspects of the transfer process must be easily accessible on community college and university campuses in a variety of media modalities including all websites. This information needs to be accurate, comprehensive, and include deadlines; and,

Community colleges and universities must move beyond competition and into collaboration for the benefit of student academic success. Students knew of the competition and ill will between institutions as exhibited by attitudes and behaviors of personnel before, during and after the transfer process.


The pathway from the community college to the university was fraught with detours and, occasionally, roadblocks for these students. The participants believe in the importance of higher education for future success for themselves, their families, and their communities. Because of their transfer experiences and their values, successful transfer students are eager to assist other students and postsecondary institutions in the transfer process. Both community colleges and universities would be wise to tap into this resource to assist future transfer students and, to improve the processes and policies for successful transfer from the community college to the university.

Martha Ellis is dean of the graduate faculty and professor at the Roueche Graduate Center of National American University. Ellis served as president of two community colleges and associate vice chancellor of the University of Texas System. This article is the continuation of a series authored by principals involved in National American University’s Roueche Graduate Center and other national experts identified by the center. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis serve as editors of the monthly column, a partnership between NAU’s Roueche Graduate Center and Community College Week. For additional information send emails to mbmathis@national.edu or, call 512-813-2300.

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