Universities welcome transfer surge

Jasmine White

Jasmine White transferred to Morgan State University, where she’s majoring in actuarial science.  (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Maryland universities are welcoming — and even recruiting — more transfers, reports the Baltimore Sun. Half of state university undergrads started somewhere else.

Jasmine White was accepted to Morgan State University, her dream college, almost 10 years ago. But the New Yorker discovered she could not afford the out-of-state tuition.

“I just started crying because I had no idea where I was going to get [the money] before class started,” White recalled.

Instead of coming to Baltimore, she earned an associate’s degree at a community college in New York, and served five years in the Army Reserve.

Now 26, she is finally enrolling at Morgan State this fall. With the experiences she has had, she believes she will be able to better focus on her studies than she could have when she was fresh out of high school.

Students are choosing community colleges to save money, said Janet L. Marling, the director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Georgia. “In the past I think there was the assumption that students were starting at community college because they weren’t ready to go to a four-year school,” she said.

Four-year schools have fewer doubts about the caliber of community college students, said Andrew Flagel, the senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis University. “The shift that you see is the recognition by even the most elite institutions that most of the talent in higher education is sitting in community colleges,” he said. “There’s a tremendous opportunity to bring in diverse students by establishing community partnerships.”

Maryland’s universities are establishing pipelines to allow students to transfer more easily, said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland. More universities are guaranteeing admission to community college graduates who meet academic requirements.

In 2011, Frostburg State University began offering scholarships for graduates of any community college in the state who earn a GPA of 3.0. Frostburg officials say they enrolled their largest transfer class ever last fall.

New University of Baltimore President Kurt L. Schmoke said last week that he plans to visit every community college president in the state as he steps up recruitment from the two-year colleges.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has focused on retaining and graduating the transfer students it already has. About half of the students at UMBC transferred there from another college.

Diane M. Lee, UMBC’s vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, says the university is working more closely with community colleges to ensure class credits will fulfill core requirements, so students don’t end up taking classes at community college that will be counted as electives, or not at all, by UMBC.

Transfer students are “more mature, they have different experiences, but they still have needs that we need to address,” Lee said. “When we talk about the importance of welcoming transfer students, it’s real on this campus.”

Today, one-third of all students change schools at least once in five years, and a quarter at least twice, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks this. Of those who ultimately earn degrees, nearly a quarter finish somewhere other than where they started.

40% of transfers lose all credits

Nearly 40 percent of transfer students get no credit for the courses they’ve already completed, according to a new federal study by the National Center for Education Statistics. On average, they lost 27 credits, nearly a full year of college. The average transfer student lost 13 credits.

Transfer is common. Of more than 18,000 students who began in the 2003-2004 academic year, 35 percent changed schools at least once.

Only a third of students were able to transfer all their credits, notes Jon Marcus on the Hechinger Report. Students with high grades were the most likely to have their coursework counted.

As many as 31 percent of transfer students who lost credits didn’t report their previous courses to their new college or university.

The federal government now requires institutions to post the criteria they use for determining whether to accept transfer credits, and several states—fed up with the additional cost of students churning through the public higher-education system without getting degrees—have enacted policies to make credit transfer easier, including common course numbering systems and standardized general-education requirements.

Students who transfer from community colleges to state universities keep 90 percent of their credits, notes Community College Daily.  Articulation agreements are working, said Kent Phillippe, associate vice president for research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges.

In Kansas and Missouri, community colleges have worked with universities on detailed transfer agreements and transferable course lists, writes Mara Rose Williams in the Kansas City Star.

The Kansas Board of Regents lists 46 general education courses accepted by every four-year school in the state system. The University of Missouri has a list of agreements with each of 16 schools.

Counselors make sure students take the right courses. “A student knows if they take a course at KCKCC it will transfer to any Kansas four-year” school, said Michael Vitale, a vice president at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

Transfer ed is workforce prep too

Community colleges’ workforce training mission is getting lots of attention since the Great Recession, writes Matt Reed, the Community College Dean. But educating students for transfer and an eventual bachelor’s degree is workforce development too, he argues.

. . . I’m happy to support the development of well-designed, stackable programs that meet job-seekers’ needs quickly.  We’ve even developed programs with multiple on- and off-ramps, so people who need to can stop out to make money for a while, and return when they’re able, without losing credits.  It doesn’t fit cleanly into most “performance metrics,” but it’s what many students need.

But community colleges also are “the most accessible on-ramp” for the journey to a bachelor’s degree, which is required by many higher-level jobs, writes Reed.

It takes time to see the payoff and feeder colleges rarely get any credit, he writes. “The student who graduates with a bachelor’s in engineering and makes a good salary is attributed to the university; for the community college at which she started, she doesn’t count.”

New outcomes measure draws 2-year colleges

“Dozens of community college leaders, dissatisfied with how the federal government measures graduation rates at their schools, have signed up for an alternative reporting system that provides more information about student outcomes,” reports the Washington Post.

The Student Achievement Measure site tracks the share of community college students who earn an associate’s degree or certificate within six years, transfer, remain enrolled or are “status unknown.” There are separate readouts for those who started full time and part-timers.

Federal graduation rate data for community colleges typically focus on the share of first-time, full-time students who complete an associate’s degree within three years. Often, the federal data also show the share of those who transfer out. The trouble with those metrics, according to community college advocates, is that many students take longer than three years, and many start as part-timers.

The federal government plans in the 2015-16 school year to start collecting data on what happens with students who transfer into a college or who start as part-timers.

Most SAM’s 508 participants are four-year colleges and universities, but 65 are community colleges. The SAM data tell “a more complete story,” said Kent Phillippe, an associate vice president at the American Association of Community Colleges.

For example, the federal government says Northwest Vista College in San Antonio has an 11 percent graduation rate and a 20 percent transfer-out rate for first-time, full-time students who started in 2010.

The SAM readout gives a rundown of what happened to 871 students who started as full-timers at Northwest Vista in 2007 and 1,454 who started that year as part-timers.

Among those who started full-time, 22 percent graduated within six years, 3 percent were still enrolled and 43 percent transferred out (before earning a certificate or degree). Among those who started part-time, 13 percent graduated, 5 percent were still enrolled and 41 percent transferred out.

SAM doesn’t report whether transfers went on to earn a credential elsewhere.  With so many students “swirling” from one college to another, that would be very useful information.

Ivy Tech partners with ‘Hamburger U’

McDonald’s “Hamburger University” trainees — often assistant and shift managers — will be able to use their credits to earn a certificate or associate degree through Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College, reports the Indianapolis Star.  McDonald’s employees across the country will have a chance to turn their management training credits into a credential through Ivy Tech’s online program.

The program is called a “degree crosswalk”, reports Community College Daily.

Tulsa offers debt-free college

Tulsa Community College is free for local high school graduates with a C average or better. Tulsa Achieves pays for up to 63 credits or three years of college. Public, private and home-schooled students in Tulsa County are eligible.

Seven years ago Tom McKeon, president of the community college, persuaded local business and political leaders to invest in educating local graduates, reports NPR. “I think we’re seeing kids that never, ever dreamed that college was a possibility for them because parents didn’t think it was within their realm,” McKeon says.

Some 10,000 students have received gap-closing aid, mostly funded by local property taxes. The average cost is $3,400 per student per year.

When asked if taxpayers are getting their money’s worth, McKeon throws out these numbers: eight out of ten students who enter the program… finish it.

One key to that retention rate is the program’s structure. Students get lots of encouragement and help — tutorials on note-taking, test preparation, research and time management skills. They’re even required to take a course called “Strategies for Academic Success.”

. . . In the beginning, about 40 percent of students who went through the program transferred to four-year institutions. Today, it’s less than 10 percent. There are a few reasons for the drop. One positive: with the economy picking up, more students are finding good jobs after they get their associate’s degree. The bad news: for many, transferring to a four-year school is still too expensive.

Next year, Tennessee will offer tuition-free community college to high school graduates, funded with lottery revenues. Oregon is considering a similar plan.

In Detroit suburbs, a model for higher ed

Macomb Community College in the Detroit suburbs is a higher education model, writes Jack Lessenberry in the Toledo Blade.

 With the collapse of the state’s old muscle-based full-employment economy, pretty much everyone seems to agree on three things: Michigan needs more people with higher-education degrees, education needs to be affordable, and it needs to lead to jobs.

Macomb Community College seems to have created a model that works to deliver all three objectives at a wide range of levels. Students of limited means can and do enter the two-year college, take basic courses for less than half the tuition they’d pay at a four-year school, then transfer to an institution that grants bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

. . . the college also provides fast job training to people who need it. Macomb has an eight-week program that trains people to run the fairly complex machines used in today’s assembly plants and other manufacturing operations. The college says the program has an 85 percent job placement rate.

The college’s president, Jim Jacobs, has been at Macomb as an instructor and administrator for 40 years. “We are about giving people skills, sometimes for a specific job, but more importantly, skills they can keep using,” he said. “We need people who can adapt, and we try to give them the ability to do that.”

Based on work at Macomb, the Community College Research Center has released advice for colleges on simplifying the decision-making process for students.

California: Building transfer bridges


San Franciscans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.

One way to restrain college costs and expand diversity is to build a sturdier bridge between community colleges and elite universities, writes Ronald Brownstein in The Atlantic.

The University of California is trying to do that, he writes. Last month, a task force urged the nine-campus system to “streamline and strengthen” the transfer process.

Overall, the report noted, 29 percent of the system’s entering students in 2012-13 arrived as community-college transfers.

. . . Just over half of the admitted transfer students, the study found, were first-generation students, slightly above the proportion in the freshman class. Perhaps most impressively, the study found that 86 percent of transfers graduated within four years after arriving, almost exactly equal to the 84 percent of freshman students who finish after six years.

However, transfers come disproportionately from seven community colleges in affluent areas such as Santa Monica, Cupertino, Pasadena, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.

 Although African-Americans and Hispanic students make up nearly 46 percent of the state’s huge community-college student body, they represented only about 25 percent of those who transferred into UC. That was actually less than their share of the entering freshmen class for the UC system.

To encourage more demographic and geographic diversity, the report recommended that UC build partnerships with the community colleges that send few students into the transfer pipeline; increase its visibility on every two-year campus; broaden its own direct outreach to community-college students; expand the transition services it provides to transfer students; and, perhaps most important, establish more consistency in the course requirements that each UC campus sets for admission.

UC still lets each campus set its own transfer requirements, making it hard for students to navigate the system, said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.  The less selective California State system unified requirements under a 2010 state law. “The UC system should be able to align their requirements for the different majors within the system, and that would allow students to prepare.”

Fifteen California community colleges would be allowed to one bachelor’s degree each in an area of “critical workforce demand” under a bill that has passed the state Senate.

Washington colleges plan competency degrees

Washington state’s community colleges plan to offer an online, competency-based associate degree in business, reports Katherine Long in the Seattle Times. Students will be able to complete the degree in 18 months — or earlier, if they’ve already earned applicable college credits.

The program is designed for working adults.

Tuition will cost $2,666 for a six-month term and students who take a full load will be eligible for federal and state financial aid.

Graduates who transfer to a state university will be halfway to a bachelor’s degree in business administration. All their credits will be counted.

“The student will earn a transcript that will look like a regular college transcript,” said Jan Yoshiwara, deputy executive director for education at SBCTC. “What’s different is the mode of delivery.”

Competency-based degrees give students a chance to earn credit for what they already know how to do. A student who can demonstrate that he or she has strong writing skills, for example, could skip over parts of an English-composition course. In some courses, a student would take a test to prove he or she has already mastered parts of the subject; in others, the student may complete an assignment, Yoshiwara said.

Students will study composition, lab science, accounting, economics, business calculus, public speaking, political science, sociology and statistics. “Washington community colleges already teach those subjects online — even lab science, which involves using a kit to do experiments at home, and public speaking, in which students record themselves giving speeches,” reports Long.

Western Governors University-Washington, which offers competency-based bachelor’s and master’s degrees, helped design the program.

Competency-based education is “a remarkably logical way to reach students,” said Jean Floten, chancellor of WGU-Washington and formerly the president of Bellevue College. “It’s well-suited to people who have a clear goal in mind, and are self-motivated, and can navigate technology in an independent setting.”

Pushing minority kids to 4-year colleges

Latino and black students are as likely as whites to start college, but much less likely to earn a degree, writes Janell Ross in The Atlantic. Most Latino and black students start at two-year colleges with open admissions and low graduation rates. In Los Angeles, there’s a move to help disadvantaged students start at state universities.

Students at gang- and poverty-ridden East Los Angeles’s Garfield High School who meet minimum requirements will now enjoy guaranteed admission to California State University (Los Angeles). The same initiative will also guarantee that students at East L.A. College, a nearby community college, can transfer to Cal State L.A., and the community college will expand its course offerings available to Garfield students.

The partnership between the Los Angeles Board of Education, Cal State Los Angeles, and East Los Angeles College includes mentors and internships.

“Even minority students with high GPAs and standardized-test scores are far more likely to attend two-year schools than their white peers and are subsequently far less likely to graduate,” according to Separate and Unequal, a 2013 report by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “More than 30 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics with a high school grade point average (GPA) higher than 3.5 go to community colleges compared with 22 percent of whites with the same GPA.”

“Selective colleges spend anywhere from two to almost five times as much on instruction per student as the open-access colleges” and offer far more counseling, tutoring and other support services to help students earn a degree, the report observed.