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A new Ithaka S+R report explores how to improve transfer pathways between community colleges and nonprofit private four-year institutions.

It's expected that some students will stay close to home and enroll in two-year colleges for the coming semester or two to save money, due to the impacts of COVID-19. While private institutions may struggle to recruit back those students, they could employ strategies that would make the transfer process more amenable and thus more attractive, according to the report.

But independent colleges will likely have to think differently about transfer students to make that happen. While their graduation rates tend to be better than those of public four-year colleges, their graduation rates for community college transfer students are poorer than those of transfers to public four-year colleges.

One of the largest barriers for transfer is the loss of credits. Often, colleges don't count credits from previous institutions, and community college students are likely to haphazardly take courses that won't count toward their majors. Instead, independent colleges could create articulation agreements with local community colleges, which would ensure students could transfer with junior-level status.

Colleges could also come together to create standardized major-specific pathways, which would help students understand which prerequisites and sequences they should take. Transfer portals, or websites that let students see how their transcripts would transfer, would also help in this effort.

Another barrier is "transfer shock," caused by cultural differences between open-access institutions and elite, selective colleges. Tailored orientations and dedicated campus space for transfers could help ease this issue.

Finally, students coming from community colleges may be low income and thus need more financial help. Dedicated financial aid for transfers and fee reduction could help ease this burden.