Degrees from elite private colleges are increasingly limited to those who enroll as freshmen, even though increasing numbers of undergraduates nationally start their higher educations at community colleges, according to a summary of a report being released today by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
Fewer than 1 of every 1,000 students at elite private colleges started at community colleges, the foundation found. More than 40 percent of undergraduates study at community colleges.
It's not just community college transfers who are having a tougher time getting in, but anyone who started at another institution. In 2002, the proportion of students at elite private colleges who transferred from another institution was 5.7 percent, down from 10.5 percent in 1984, according to the report.
The foundation's research was conducted by scholars at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the University of Southern California. In addition to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, support also came from the Lumina Foundation for Education and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
The data are being released at a time of increasing attention to the issue of transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions. It's not only that community colleges enroll so many students, but that those students include many of the minority and low-income students many institutions struggle to attract. While the issue of community college transfers is not a new one, there has been more focus of late about getting such students into top institutions. This spring, for example, the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin at Madison both announced programs to ease the transfer of students from their states' community colleges into their flagship universities. 
The Cooke fund in 2002 created the most generous scholarships  that exist to encourage transfer from community colleges. And in March, the foundation awarded $27 million in grants to eight highly competitive four-year colleges and universities to set up model programs  to encourage transfers from community colleges.
New enrollment patterns may also make the transfer issue more important. Community colleges have long been known as institutions that attract many older students seeking a higher education. But data released by the Education Department last year indicated that an increasing share of traditional college-age students are starting off at two-year institutions. 
The idea behind the new report is to focus more attention on the transfer issue, in preparation for a conference the foundation is holding later this month on how community colleges can help increase the socioeconomic diversity of elite institutions. "Our best colleges and universities ought to open their doors wider to top community college graduates," said Joshua Wyner, vice president of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.