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2016 January 19 - 03:12 pm

Report: College Transfer Pipeline Badly Leaking

Lower-Income Students Fare More Poorly than Middle Income Peers

Every year, some 1.7 million students enroll in a community college, with about 80 percent having the goal of one day walking across the stage in cap and gown, a bachelor’s degree and a ticket to the middle class in hand.

But for the vast majority of students, this dream remains only a dream. Just 14 percent of students who start their higher education careers at a community college transfer to a four-year university and earn a bachelor’s degree with six years. Even among the community college students who manage to successfully transfer to a four-year school, just 42 percent completed a bachelor’s degree.

Those sobering statistics are among a trove of data contained in a new report compiled and released by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University; the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program; and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The 56-page report makes a strong case that the community-college-to-university pipeline is badly leaking, with on a tiny trickle of community college students earning a bachelor’s degree.

“Too many students are failed by the current system of transfer between community colleges and universities,” said Davis Jenkins, senior research associate at CCRC.

But the news is not uniformly bad. The report uncovered huge variations in the effectiveness of the community colleges and four-year colleges in helping students transfer and complete bachelor’s degrees, suggesting there is ample opportunity for improvement

“These data indicate that the practices of the colleges — their programs for transfer students and collaboration between two and four-year destination colleges — can make a big difference in whether transfer students are successful,” said Douglas Shapiro, executive research director at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “This makes it clear how important it is for two- and four-year institutions to work together to fix the transfer problem.”

The report, which examined 720,000 degree-seeking students who started college in 2007 identifies which states are doing the best in helping community college transfers earn bachelor’s degrees, hopefully allowing the sharing of best practices and successful strategies.

“This report enables us, for the first time, to see in which states colleges are supporting students in this journey so we can figure out what works and enable students everywhere to be successful,” Jenkins said.

Solving the transfer problem is an economic imperative in a time of growing diversity, the report suggests.  The report found. In most states, lower-income students, who are more likely to start at community colleges, do worse on almost all transfer measurements than their higher-income peers.

“Transfer challenges disproportionately impact students who are already at a disadvantage,” said Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “Knocking down barriers to transfer will help narrow our nation’s opportunity gap by boosting the rate at which low-income students and students of color earn bachelor’s degrees. At the same time, it will help create a better educated workforce — planting the seeds for sustained economic growth.”

The report is the first phase in a major initiative to tackle low transfer rates and to provide colleges with the tools they need to improve. It recommends a set of five measures as a new way to track which institutions are effective in serving transfer students and which states have a robust transfer pipeline from community colleges to four-year schools.

Building on this research, CCRC and the Aspen Institute will develop a “playbook” for creating effective transfer partnerships between community colleges and universities. It is scheduled to be released in spring 2016 in collaboration with Public Agenda.


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