Expanding Pathways to College

Transfer policies are crucial, new report says.

January 6, 2020
(Istockphoto.com/Anna Stills)

In the current era, "the image of the 'traditional' college student as a recent high school graduate who is enrolled full time at a four-year, residential college is no longer the reality for most," says a new report from Ithaka S&R. "Large numbers of students enroll in community college directly out of high school or enroll in a two- or four-year institution for the first time several years after graduating high school. Moreover, as the economy and technology change the skills required to obtain (or keep) a well-paying job, many working adults find themselves in a position where they need to obtain a postsecondary degree to remain competitive in the labor force. Adult learners can also consist of military veterans, or those who earned some postsecondary credit previously but never completed a certificate or degree."

If colleges want to get more community college students into four-year programs they must change their programs, the report adds.

"Fewer than a third of community college students transfer to a four-year college within six years of their initial enrollment," the report says. "More troubling is that only 13 percent of students who started at a community college went on to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. That includes a 42 percent bachelor’s degree attainment rate of 2010 students who transferred to a four-year college."

The report urges college to adopt a number of reforms:

  • Common course numberings. Having the same course numbers at two-year and four-year institutions "can help to ease the administrative burden of articulating credit between institutions and thereby reduce credit loss." Yet, as of 2018, only 17 states had a system to assure common course numbers.
  • Clear articulation agreements. "Articulation agreements can serve as clear roadmaps to help facilitate transfer and should be used by counselors to help guide students throughout their education," the report says.
  • Transfer pathways. "Similar to articulation agreements in that they provide a guaranteed process to transfer credit, transfer pathways outline the set and sequence of courses needed if a student begins at a community college and aspires to complete a specific bachelor’s degree program at a particular four-year college," the report says.

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