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Black male student listens attentively to older adult giving guidance.

A survey of Black and African American community college students in California found four factors that promote successful transfer to a four-year institution.

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Around two-thirds of African American and Black students who attend postsecondary education in California start in community colleges, but only 3 percent transfer from the California Community College system in two years and 35 percent transfer within six years—10 percentage points lower than their white peers.  

The Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges (the RP Group) published an October report as part of its project African American Transfer Tipping Point Study, which identifies four characteristics among successful community college transfers.

Black or African American students who complete transfer-level English and math quickly, receive academic counseling, participate in a CCC educational and cultural experiences program, and avoid academic probation are more likely to be successful in transferring.

Methodology: After identifying gaps in achievement at key events (completing transfer-level English and math, academic counseling, and specific programming), RP Group surveyed 7,148 African American and Black students to understand their perspectives.

Students represented 116 colleges in the California Community Colleges system during the 2022–23 academic year. A significant proportion (48 percent) of students were traditional college age, 18 to 25 years old; 47 percent received financial aid, and 44 percent were first generation.

Gateway courses: Passing transfer-level math in the first year increases the likelihood that a Black student will be near or through the transfer gate by 160 percent, according to the report. Students who pass math and English in the first year see their odds grow 310 percent.

Survey responses affirmed that passing expeditiously increases odds of transfer, with one respondent writing, “I was confident in the very beginning when I first began going to college, but my confidence deteriorated when I kept failing at math.”

Students who regularly experienced microaggressions on campus were also less likely to pass gateway math on the first attempt. Four in five African American and Black students who reported no experience with microaggressions on campus passed gateway math on the first try, compared to one in four of their peers who did experience microaggressions regularly.

Academic counseling: Students who receive guidance on academic course progression and transfer processes are more likely to progress toward transfer, but African American and Black students are less impacted by academic counseling.

Students shared that advising could be more impactful if the adviser was the same race as them. Two out of three survey respondents indicated they would prefer to meet with, but only half had engaged with, an African American or Black counselor.

Frequency of counseling did improve students’ feelings of success. Those who met with a counselor three or more times were more likely to feel focused (62 percent), engaged (53 percent), nurtured (52 percent) and directed (51 percent).

Umoja participation: Umoja (which means “unity” in Kiswahili, which is spoken in east and central Africa) is a program across the CCC system that offers educational and cultural experiences to African Americans and other students.

Over nine in 10 (93 percent) of students who participated in Umoja and transferred to a four-year institution said the program helped them transfer successfully. Umoja students were more likely to have repeated counseling experiences (47 percent) and counseling with a Black adviser (45 percent), as well, which increases overall success.

Students in Umoja programs also reported higher feelings of belonging at their institution. Three-quarters of Umoja students said they found one or more communities or groups where they feel they belong, and 78 percent have been able to connect personally with someone at the college to support academic success.

Academic probation: Students placed on academic probation are less likely to transfer, and Black and African American students are more likely to be on academic probation, harming transfer prospects for that group of learners.

Among survey participants, one in four (28 percent) had been on academic probation at some point, and these students were more likely to report struggles completing transfer-level coursework compared to their peers. Only 31 percent of students impacted by academic probation felt the institution’s support to get off probation was “very helpful.”

Black and African American students impacted by academic probation were more likely to report challenges with school-life balance, accessing a support network, meeting basic needs or technology access, poor mental health, pandemic-related struggles and insufficient access to helpful academic counselors or advisers.

Recommendations: To promote transfer success for African American and Black students, researchers offer college and system leaders four considerations.

  • Create an inclusive environment. Racism continues to impact Black students’ success. Institutional leadership must articulate and demonstrate to all stakeholders a strong stance against racism, including clear reporting processes and consequences.
  • Increase representation. Students value advisers who share common experiences, so officials should aim to hire African American and Black staff across the college.
  • Implement continuity in advising. Ensuring regular connection between students and advisers can establish trust and build relationships, leading to transfer success.
  • Establish holistic supports. Faculty and staff should understand students struggling academically may be experiencing challenges outside the classroom and connect them to resources and supports.

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