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Title

(Un?)Common Knowledge

Do students know that graduating first helps with credit transfer?

January 13, 2022
 
 

Every so often I’ll be surprised that other people are surprised. It’s a clue that something I had assumed was common knowledge actually wasn’t.

It happened again this week.

The context was a conversation about the advantages for students of completing the associate degree before transferring for the bachelor’s. Like many community colleges, we have a great many students who transfer without graduating first. For obvious institutional reasons, we’d prefer that more of them finish here first. But that’s not just self-interest: if life happens during the junior year, say, and the student has to step away for a while, it’s better to leave with an associate degree in the back pocket than as a dropout.

As the conversation went on, I mentioned quickly that students who complete the degree tend to get more of their credits accepted in transfer than students who just show up with a grab bag of courses. In many cases, receiving colleges will take degrees as a bloc of credits, rather than trying to cherry-pick courses. Showing up at the four-year school with the associate in hand saves the student the frustration and expense of having to retake courses or taking more than they should have needed.

Several other people in the conversation—people who have spent years in the community college world, who care about students and who genuinely mean well—didn’t know that. Which made me wonder how many students know that.

Students know generally about transfer, and they mostly know about tuition rates. But I don’t know how many of them know that you get a better deal at transfer if you complete the degree first.

From the perspective of a receiving institution, the distinction makes some sense. A student who has completed a program has shown the ability to complete a program. That’s a powerful predictor of the likelihood of completing the next program. (In this context, “ability to complete” refers to more than intelligence; it frequently refers to a combination of drive and material conditions. But the point about predictive power stands.) For colleges looking to fill empty seats in upper-level courses, strong transfer students can be very appealing. They may not show up in graduation rates—don’t get me started—but they show up in many other ways.

In theory, at least, the benefit of completing first should be easy enough to explain. But I don’t know if many colleges actually try.

Wise and worldly readers, especially those who work at or attended community colleges: Did (or does) your CC make a point of explaining that you get a better deal upon transfer if you graduate first?

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