December 31, 2015
College Readiness
Subpar high school grades, work, children, financial limitations and, as US News recently points out, even immigration status can detrimentally affect students’ chances of matriculating at and subsequently earning a bachelor’s degree from a traditional four-year institution of higher learning.
SEAN O'BRIEN
Clearing Paths to Affordable Bachelor’s Degrees

Subpar high school grades, work, children, financial limitations and, as US News recently points out, even immigration status can detrimentally affect students’ chances of matriculating at and subsequently earning a bachelor’s degree from a traditional four-year institution of higher learning.

Consider the example of a high school student with good grades and college aspirations, but who’s also dealing with the responsibility of holding down a full-time job to help house and feed herself and her young son.

You don’t need a brain booster to appreciate that students with the drive and potential to earn a college degree but who postpone their higher education are only locking themselves into lower skilled and therefore lower paying jobs. And when that happens to a workforce on a regional, state or national level, highly competitive companies, grants and jobs go elsewhere.

Of course, as is so often the case in America, you can’t stifle the dreams of the talented, motivated and organized. So when a single mother enrolls in local community college evening classes with her eye on transferring to a university sometime in the future, she helps puts herself, her family and her community on a pathway to success.

The Transfer Numbers

“The low cost of community colleges are not lost on students across higher education,” writes Director Christopher Mullin in Transfer: An Indispensable Part of the Community College Mission.

Apparently our single mother isn’t alone. About half of students are finding their path to the university of their choice begins first with enrollment at a local community college. Of the 3.6 million students who entered college for the first time in fall 2008, 37.2% transferred to a different institution at least once within six years, according to Signature Report 9 by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The report also found 45% of students who transferred changed their institution more than once. Counting multiple moves, the students made 2.4 million transitions from one institution to another from 2008 to 2014.

In 2014, the organizers of The Affordable College Public Benefit Corporation, a B Corp founded to help millions of Americans afford college, conducted a survey that found up to 56% of currently enrolled college students were likely to transfer to another institution. The survey of 1,027 college students also found that the “transfer of most credits towards degree” was the most important factor when selecting another institution. The survey struck a chord with everyone from students to administrators.

While educators and researchers are understandably wary of comparing findings of different studies, the increase in the number of transfer students over the past few years is profound. The need for pathways to affordable degrees in the US, therefore, is growing, and students are responding to the assistance offered to them along the way.

Transfers: A Win-Win Pathway

Regardless of personal or financial reasons, students who first earn college credits through community colleges with plans to transfer to a four-year college or university of their choice are repeatedly proving themselves to be solid assets to both their sending and receiving institutions.

Why else would 67% of large universities and 81% of small colleges currently offer merit scholarships to aid in their recruitment of transfer students? (Source: US News)

From the College Board’s series Inspiring Minds, Frank Ashley of the Texas A&M University System offers the following on the topic of transfers:

“Transfer students are proven. You’re not taking a chance with them. Once they come to a four-year institution you know they want a degree. Transfer students are a great investment.”

Let’s return to the example of the young mother in night school. As it turns out, she takes advantage of a career guidance program offered at her community college and meets a mentor familiar with her situation. She begins earning great grades in classes designed for effective credit transfer, and eventually even earns a partial scholarship, making her bachelor’s degree far more affordable and attainable.

A Clear Solution: Affordable College

Affordable College believes that community college students deserve a clear path to an affordable bachelor’s degree, in any major from their university of choice, and the company is investing in that path through the Community College Success Fund, which provides financial support for community colleges to increase enrollment, retention, transfer, and completion rates.

Dedicated to providing seamless and affordable pathways to higher education, Affordable College plans to bring together institutions whose ultimate shared goal is to see student enrollment and completion rates rise. Through these partnerships, community colleges and universities are able to keep the focus on their students, and thereby provide cost-effective pathways to degrees for students who fully intend to graduate and make the most of their degree.

With increased resources and support, students should see the route to a degree of choice is far more open and accessible. And in the case of our young transfer student, after earning her degree in early childhood education, she returned to her community to work in her local school district and, as result of her experiences, went on to form a support group for other young mothers wanting to earn college degrees of their own.

Looking Ahead

By providing accessible transfer pathways, Affordable College is paving the way for regions, schools and students to get the highest ROI out of higher education.

Recently, at the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) conference, presenter Dr. Robin R. LaSota had this to say, “While colleges have implemented a range of interventions to improve supports for upward transfer, such as mandatory student advising, transfer fairs and transfer advising programs, there is still considerable room for improvement. Even among the better-performing colleges, too many students, particularly those most at risk of not transferring, may not have sufficient, coordinated supports to successfully complete transfer from their lower-division courses to upper-division coursework leading to a bachelor’s degree.”

Clearly, with motivated students, the efforts of The Affordable College Public Benefit Corporation and ever increasing institutional partnerships, the pathways to affordable degrees are looking less thorny and more inviting every day.

Sean is a college affordability advocate and the founder of The Affordable College Public Benefit Corporation which provides community college students a clear path to an affordable bachelor’s degree by bringing together community colleges and universities in a Transfer Student Marketplace.