Many of us are familiar with the adage “it takes a village to raise a child.” The same is true when it comes to helping transfer students navigate the transfer process.
Transfer students encounter many individuals who play a critical role as they navigate the transfer pipeline. The path to college completion is not always linear, and many travel multiple routes on their journey to obtain a degree.
There is the traditional transfer route from community college to a four-year institution; reverse transfer where students start at a fouryear institution and transition to a community college; transfers between community colleges or four-year colleges; and “swirling,” where students transfer multiple times between all college types. Unfortunately, all of this movement between institutions can result in students taking many courses, accruing massive debt, and not obtaining a degree. What can be done?
Demographic changes in the United States are presenting challenges for enrollment management leaders. For example, birthrates are projected to decrease during the 2017–2029 time period, which will impact the number of 18-year-olds living in the US. This decline is primarily prevalent in the eastern half of the US. As it pertains to community college enrollment, projections suggest that student enrollment will decline by 4.3 percent from 2019 to 2021 and by 16 percent from 2025 to 2029. Cost is also a factor, with 56 percent of Generation Z saying affordability is the top reason for choosing to attend a two-year school.
In addition, research shows that nearly 69 percent of four-year postsecondary institutions indicate that transfer numbers are considerably important to their overall institutional enrollment goals. Furthermore, the percentage of all newly enrolled transfer students at four-year colleges who come from a community college is 66 percent at public colleges and 43 percent at private colleges. Public four-year colleges admit one transfer student for every six first-time freshmen, while private colleges admit one transfer student for every 21 first-time freshmen.
In 2019, NACAC released a community college and transfer research brief that highlighted secondary school counselor preparation to discuss community college and the transfer process. The brief, which also shares school counselor attitudes toward community college, showed that counselors felt at least moderately prepared to advise students about community colleges, and were most prepared to discuss the process of applying to/enrolling in community college. However, fewer than 40 percent felt very prepared about important topics such as local community college transfer policies and for-profit college comparisons. Slightly more than half of counselors (55 percent) had received professional development on advising students on community college enrollment in the past three years. Regarding attitudes and stigma, the brief found that a large majority of counselors strongly agreed that community colleges offer relatively easy application and enrollment processes (82 percent), strong vocational/technical programs (72 percent), and costsavings for a bachelor’s degree (80 percent).
However, most counselors reported less positive attitudes about the academic rigor of community college coursework and the ease of transfer to four-year colleges. Counselors at public schools were much more likely to strongly agree that community colleges offer rigorous academic coursework when compared to their private school counterparts (42 percent compared to 23 percent). The highest levels of stigma were reported at private, non-parochial schools. Counselors at more than half of private, non-parochial schools indicated that community college transfer was very stigmatized among parents/families (61 percent) and students (53 percent). Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of survey respondents from private, non-parochial schools reported that community college transfer was very stigmatized among the administration, compared to only 10 percent of private, parochial schools and 4 percent of public schools.
Given this data, it is important to review some ways that professionals—both secondary and postsecondary—can help support students who pursue community college and transfer.
Being a transfer agent or transfer champion is a great first step in supporting community college and transfer students.
Being a transfer agent or transfer champion is a great first step in supporting community college and transfer students. A transfer agent consciously helps students understand the specific language of higher education and the resources available to support them. In other words, someone who can help students navigate the intricacies of the college admission process, as well as the landscape of college life once those students have transitioned to campus. This may come in the form of helping prospective transfer students through the application process or helping them find the academic advising center on campus. These steps may seem small, but they are crucial for someone who is working through the process. A transfer champion goes even further to ensure that systems and structures are in place to help support students. This may mean questioning the status quo and dismantling current processes that impede students’ abilities to successfully navigate the transfer pipeline. Here are some ways to be a transfer champion:
Whether a transfer agent or champion, and despite demographic shifts, rising costs, and other challenges, it will take the entire village to ensure that systems, structures, and resources are in place to support these students.
Crystal E. Newby is senior associate director of education and training at NACAC.