There are countless resources to help high school students pick the four-year institution that is best for them, but there are relatively few tools for community college students who seek the same advice when they are ready to transfer. Hoping to remedy this matchmaking shortage, a community college honors society has created an online space where aspiring transfer students and recruiters at four-year institutions can mingle.
Phi Theta Kappa  is beta testing CollegeFish.org . The site is available free for all community college students – not just to members of the honors society. It collects information provided by users, including “co-curricular interests, size of institution desired to attend, housing needs, financial need, GPA, anticipated course load, ability to relocate geographically, etc.” This information is then used in an algorithm designed to “rank [five] colleges which provide the best fit for the student.”
Once a set of potential matches is identified, the user is informed of the institutions’ deadlines for admission, housing, financial aid and course registration via e-mail. Users can see what scholarships their potential match institutions have set aside specifically for community college transfers. The site outlines a step-by-step process for users to successfully plan for and complete the transfer process. Contact information for admissions staff members, who can offer “guidance on course selection” in community college and eventual “seamless transfer of credits” to their four-year institutions, is compiled for the user. The site also contains other resources for users, including information about how articulation agreements work and how to maximize financial aid.
Three community colleges in Mississippi, where Phi Theta Kappa is located, began beta testing the site last fall. In the spring, the remaining 12 community colleges in the state will be invited to do the same.
Once the testing phase is over, all community colleges will be invited to partner with the site and take advantage of its services. There is no charge for two-year institutions to use the service. They simply need to send data on those of their students who agree to participate to the site, which uses it to create user profiles. Community college counselors and advisers can then see the progress of their students toward degree completion and eventual transfer and use these reports to help advise them in the event of any difficulties.
Rod Risley, executive director of Phi Theta Kappa, hopes that many institutions will begin submitting student information to the site as soon as they enroll, making the site a comprehensive clearinghouse for data on community college transfers. For those community colleges that have robust transfer counseling services, he noted that the site can be a “supplemental tool” and for those that have few such services it can provide a base on which to build.
“Even some of the best and brightest have no idea what they’ll do after earning their associate degree,” Risley said. “This matching service for community college students will help them find their way.”
Jackie Hale, academic counselor at Holmes Community College, in Mississippi, is anxious to test the site when her institution starts registering students for the summer and fall terms in a few weeks. She said the service will be of particular help in exposing her students, who come from one of the poorest counties in the state, to various scholarship opportunities that could make transfer possible. Already stretched thin as the only academic counselor on her campus, she noted the site will help her reach more students than she has in the past.
“This’ll help our students become more proactive, take control of the transfer process and have a more active role in choosing a university” Hale said. “Any extra help we can get, it’s worth it, even if that’s just one or two more students receiving a transfer scholarship than usual. … Use of it’ll start out slow at first but should grow as advisers get into it and students hear more about it.”
Much like the transfer process itself, though, the site is a two-way street. Not only can community colleges students use the site to seek out four-year institutions, those institutions can also use it to recruit transfers. Four-year institutions wishing to use the site are charged an annual subscription fee based on the number of students they attempt to recruit. The prices range from $250 for a list of 500 students who match with an institution to $3,000 for an unlimited list. Four-year institutions that subscribe to the service not only connect to students who have expressed some interest in their institution, they are also able to search using various criteria for students they would like to admit, perhaps helping them with diversity goals among others.
So far, about 300 four-year institutions have signed on to use the site to recruit transfers. Risley noted that his organization is already marketing the tool to others and hopes to launch it nationally in the near future, once a critical mass of community college students begin submitting information.
Mississippi University for Women (which, despite its name, is coeducational) has been using the site for a few months, and officials there already like what they see. Shelley McNees, assistant director of admissions, said her institution has long relied upon community college transfers to meet its enrollment goals. The university, which only has about 2,400 students, regularly admits just as many transfers each year as it does in its freshman class. Though the university heavily recruits in state and at least 90 percent of its transfers come from Mississippi, she said it will use the site to further out-of-state recruiting.
The Illinois Institute of Technology has also been using the site in its nascent stage. Rishab Malhotra, a senior admission counselor, concurred that his use of the site will provide an opportunity to market his institution to new students, especially using the many scholarships the institute offers to community college transfers. This, he noted, will help him bring in more students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who are relatively underrepresented at his institution.
“We’ve finally been able to get the word out locally about us,” Malhotra said. “We’re hoping this’ll be a way for us to do that nationally. This should help us get more exposure and reach out to those students who may not have heard of us and the opportunities we can offer them. We’re fighting. We’re saying that attending a four-year private is possible in this economy.”
The New School, in New York City, is using the tool to stabilize for its transfer-only School for General Studies, which allows community college students the opportunity to complete a baccalaureate degree either on campus or online. Cory Meyers, an associate director of admissions, said the school was 70 students short of its fall target of 240 transfers but 27 students above its spring goal of 107.
“In this economy, it’s become hard to predict enrollments at the baccalaureate level,” Meyers said. “This’ll help us reach students we wouldn’t otherwise reach and, since we have an online program, reach out to students on the west coast and other places where we haven’t broken through. It’s excellent for those of us that rely on transfer students.”