Bringing High-Achieving Students to High-Achieving Schools
Community college is often perceived as a place for low-achieving students who, for one reason or another, aren't capable of succeeding at bachelor's institutions. Even in programs that are designed to help students transfer to a 4-year institution after receiving their associate's degrees, students are rarely encouraged to apply to America's elite colleges and universities.
But the truth is, community colleges aren't just the most ethnically diverse institutions in the country - they also represent the full spectrum of academic ability. Nearly half of all American undergrads are enrolled at community colleges, and that number is rising. Recent research has found that 2-year institutions have absorbed the majority of the recession-driven surge in college enrollment. Among this population are millions of full-time, low-income students of traditional college age (18-24), a group primed to benefit the most from transfer to a 4-year school.
This is where the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation comes in. In 2005, they launched the Community College Transfer Initiative (CCTI) to study and promote the successful transfer of high-achieving community college students to selective colleges and universities. Past research from the CCTI has shown that students who are able to transfer have high success rates. Seventy-five percent of community college transfers at elite schools earn their bachelor's degree within 8.5 years of high school graduation. And for low-income students, the community college years are often a crucial step - the lowest socioeconomic status (SES) community college students who transfer are much more likely to graduate than their peers who went directly to a 4-year school.
The Initiative is working to change the perception that community college students can't succeed at elite schools and increase successful transfer rates among this population. For the past three years, eight of the nation's top-tier postsecondary institutions have participated in an ongoing study of the best practices to improve the transfer experience and increase the likelihood of personal and academic success. These schools include Amherst College, Bucknell University, Cornell University, Mount Holyoke College, the University of California Berkeley, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and the University of Southern California.
In a review released today, the Foundation reported that results have 'far exceeded' the goals of the initiative. Together, the institutions enrolled almost 2,000 more lower-income community college students. Many students credit the program with guiding them through the transfer process - 41% of CCTI students surveyed were the first in their family to attend any 4-year college or university, and many say that they would not have even considered applying to a selective school without the encouragement of CCTI. Furthermore, the Initiative's outreach efforts have helped smooth the transition both academically and socially, preparing them for success at their new institution.
Participating colleges also report seeing benefits from the program. Community college transfers have increased campus diversity, made notable intellectual contributions to the classroom and become exceptionally engaged in the local community. Many have even gone on to become peer mentors and transfer ambassadors to other prospective transfer students.
In addition to helping students apply, enroll and settle in, the Initiative has worked with institutions to smooth the credit transfer process. They found that increasing transparency, flexibility and a willingness to negotiate between community colleges and 4-year institutions was more effective than formal agreements and strict policies.
The Foundation has expressed hope that the successful practices developed through this pilot program will be replicated throughout the country's 4-year colleges and universities. Emily Froimson, Director of Higher Education Programs at the Foundation, notes that 'Talented community college students can thrive at highly selective institutions if assisted with admissions and financial aid applications as well as orientation and academic support. The CCTI has demonstrated that there are exceptional lower-income students in community colleges capable of succeeding at the nation's best 4-year institutions and that their partnerships with community colleges can identify these students and ensure their success.'