Going to community college and then transferring to a four-year school is often considered one of the best ways to get a degree for significantly less money. However, recent research has shed light on the challenges that community college transfer students face in achieving their educational goals.

Enrollment at community colleges has been on the rise, with a 2.6% increase last fall, surpassing other institution types. Despite this, the transfer rate from community colleges to four-year schools remains low. Only about one-third of students who start at community colleges ultimately transfer to four-year institutions, and even fewer earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. In fact, only 16% of all community college students attain a bachelor’s degree, according to various reports.

Furthermore, the challenges are even steeper for low-income students and students of color. Just 11% of low-income students and 9% of Black students transfer and complete bachelor’s degrees within six years. In contrast, 69% of students who start at a four-year public university and 78% of those at four-year private schools complete their degrees within the same timeframe.

While the numbers may be discouraging, there are factors that contribute to higher success rates among community college transfer students. Research shows that students who complete an associate’s degree at a community college before transferring have higher success rates. Additionally, students who engage in dual enrollment programs during high school also benefit from a more structured pathway and additional resources.

To improve transfer outcomes across the board, experts suggest that colleges and universities take on the responsibility of supporting students. Rather than placing the burden on high school seniors and college-level freshmen, institutions should focus on developing effective transfer policies and providing necessary resources.

Some states have already made strides in this area, implementing policies that guarantee transfer students with an associate’s degree admission as a junior in a four-year state school. For example, Florida’s UCF Connect program provides guaranteed admission to the University of Central Florida for community college students who earn their associate’s degree.

Despite these promising initiatives, there is still room for improvement. Many states do not adequately track the progress of transfer students once they enter four-year institutions. This lack of data makes it difficult to identify areas of improvement and implement targeted strategies to support transfer students.

To increase success rates for community college transfer students, there must be collaboration between community colleges and four-year universities. Institutions need to work together to develop comprehensive transfer policies, provide necessary resources, and track student progress to ensure successful outcomes.

While community college transfer poses its challenges, it is not an insurmountable task. By focusing on supporting students in their journey from community college to four-year institutions, we can create a more equitable education system that empowers all students to achieve their academic goals. It is time for the higher education system to step up and take responsibility for the success of their students.


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