Low success rate for community college transfers in completing a bachelor’s degree, new data shows

A recent study shows that only 16 percent of community college transfers manage to earn a bachelor’s degree, with Black, Latino, and low-income students facing the biggest challenges in reaching completion.

The latest data from the Community College Research Center and the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program suggests that approximately a third of community college students transfer to four-year institutions, but less than half of them graduate within six years, resulting in an overall completion rate of 16 percent.

Collaborating with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the report found even lower completion rates for Black, Latino, and low-income students, at 9, 13, and 11 percent, respectively.

John Fink (Community College Research Center)

According to John Fink, a senior research associate at the Community College Research Center, the transfer process is hindered by various obstacles due to the lack of collaboration between community colleges and four-year institutions.

Fink emphasized the need for clear pathways and adequate advising for students transferring between institutions rather than placing the burden on students to navigate the system themselves.

The complexity and ambiguity surrounding the transfer process have contributed to a decline in interest among students pursuing bachelor’s degrees, particularly as enrollment at vocational-focused community colleges increases, Fink pointed out.

Fink highlighted the perpetuation of societal disparities within the transfer system, noting that students from historically underserved communities, such as low-income and students of color, face significant challenges in attaining higher education opportunities.

Fink warned that without additional resources and support to address these disparities, the completion outcomes would continue to reflect existing inequities.

The study revealed disparities in bachelor’s degree completion rates among community college transfers across different demographic groups, indicating lower completion rates for low-income, Black, and Latino students, as well as for men and older students.

Conversely, high-income, Asian, and White students exhibited higher completion rates compared to the national average, along with women and younger students.

While completion rates have shown a slight increase from previous years, climbing from 14 percent in 2016, Fink emphasized that the progress is insufficient and falls short of the necessary improvements.

Fink stressed the potential for enhancing economic mobility and diversifying student populations by implementing inclusive practices such as creating a sense of belonging on campus and expanding programs like dual enrollment to enhance transfer completion rates.

Fink underscored the importance of fostering a supportive and inclusive environment to address the national challenges in completion outcomes effectively.

Dr. Marielena DeSanctis, president of the Community College of Denver, expressed concern over the completion disparities faced by students from low-income backgrounds in accessing bachelor’s degrees.

DeSanctis highlighted the growing demand for bachelor’s degrees in the job market and emphasized the need to address limitations that hinder access to higher education for a broader population.

Dr. Marielena DeSanctis (Community College of Denver)

DeSanctis noted disparities in transfer processes between Florida and Colorado institutions, emphasizing the need for more transparent and equitable transfer practices that support student mobility and success.

DeSanctis advocated for community colleges as pathways for students, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, to transition smoothly into universities and change the trajectory of their educational journey.

Debi Gaitan, vice president of student services at Northwest Vista College, echoed DeSanctis’ concerns, calling for an end to practices that restrict educational opportunities for students from low-income backgrounds.

Gaitan emphasized the need for community colleges and universities to reach out actively to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and provide necessary resources to support their academic pursuits.

Debi Gaitan (Northwest Vista College)

Gaitan highlighted the importance of inclusive programs and support services, such as counseling and essential resources, to empower students from marginalized communities and ensure their success in higher education.

Gaitan called for a shift in outreach strategies to raise awareness and accessibility among underprivileged communities, enabling them to benefit from educational opportunities equally.

Gaitan emphasized the significance of creating a welcoming environment and providing necessary support to address the diverse needs of students from different socioeconomic backgrounds and promote their educational goals effectively.

Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellowship

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