4 ways to improve the community college transfer pipeline

As the coronavirus pandemic upends students’ college plans and magnifies racial disparities, higher education leaders say it is more crucial than ever to strengthen community college students’ path to an affordable four-year degree.

Transfer students face many hurdles; without early, focused advising, students may find themselves repeating classes and incurring extra costs that offset the potential savings associated with starting at a community college. Eighty percent of community college students say they intend to earn a degree within six years, but just 13 percent achieve that goal.

In an op-ed for The Hill, three education leaders recently made the case for why and how state and higher education officials should move quickly to improve the community college transfer pipeline. “Those of us working in higher education feel an immense sense of urgency to preserve our institutions’ promise as drivers of social mobility and racial equity,” write William Crowe, Shanna Smith-Jaggars, and Chris Soto—from the University of Texas at Austin, The Ohio State University, and the Connecticut State Department of Education, respectively.

“We know that low-income students and students of color are more likely to pursue a degree through a local community college, perceiving this option as more affordable and accessible. But they are also far less likely to successfully transfer to a four-year university and reach their goal of earning a bachelor’s degree.” Black and Latinx community college students, they note, are about half as likely as their white counterparts to complete a bachelor’s degree in six years.

Related: COVID-19 forces a closer look at the transfer student experience >

4 keys to a smoother transfer process

The authors suggest four strategies for creating “seamless and affordable pathways” with the potential to “deliver greater racial equity and earning power among the students who need it most”:

  • Consider students’ career goals and what employers need in determining which student experiences—including workplace learning and dual-credit high school courses—merit credit.
  • Encourage four-year colleges and universities to be more receptive to transfer students. States, they say, should offer financial incentives for collaboration between two- and four-year programs.
  • Increase state funding for community colleges to provide students with sufficient financial aid, ensure financial aid captures the entire cost of attendance, and make aid portable.
  • Boost data transparency, so that campus leaders and policymakers can pinpoint and resolve issues along the transfer pipeline.

In this moment—with colleges expecting more transfer students, policymakers focused on economic recovery, and the nation calling for racial equity—”we may finally have the right leverage to fix the broken transfer pipeline and deliver on the promise of college affordability once and for all,” the authors conclude.


Financial Aid and COVID-19

Charlene Brown-McKenzie, director of Georgetown’s Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, and Missy Foy, director of the Georgetown Scholars Program, discuss the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on students who rely on financial aid.

The Hill
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