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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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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