Each year, more than 50,000 low- to moderate-income community college students (who have at least a 3.0 GPA) don’t transfer to a four-year university, according to a report from the Aspen Institute. Of those students, approximately 15,000 have a 3.7 GPA or higher, “which suggests they could succeed at even the most competitive schools,” the report reads.
Elite four-year universities tend to overlook these talented, low-income community college transfer students, Sydney Johnson writes for EdSurge. Across all four-year institutions, the average fall enrollment for transfer students is 32%, the report found. Among universities with at least a 70% graduation rate, that average fell to 18%.
To understand transfer student outcomes, researchers analyzed nationally representative data from several sources including: the U.S. Department of Education‘s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the National Student Clearinghouse.
“[High-performing] institutions have historically enrolled fewer transfer students than their 4-year peers,” says Tania LaViolet, a co-author of the report. “This is making the case that there is a rich talent pool of community college students who are not seeking opportunity at these schools.”
To improve access to elite universities, more than 80 institutions have joined the American Talent Initiative, pledging to collectively enroll 50,000 more students into colleges and universities with high graduation rates. The group spans a variety of public and private institutions, including the entire Ivy League, the University of Virginia, several University of California campuses, Rice University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill).
Community college students may not transfer to four-year universities because of financial barriers or familial obligations, says Rebecca Egbert, senior assistant director of admissions at UNC-Chapel Hill. “They may be nervous about financial aid, and many are first-gen and may not have had access to someone to talk to them about why it’s important to move on.”
UNC-Chapel Hill is growing its number of community college transfers through an initiative called the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP), writes Johnson. As part of C-STEP, the university partners with 10 local community colleges. The program admits students from low- and middle-income backgrounds and offers students one-on-one advising and social events on the university campus. Students in C-STEP, which currently enrolls 186 community college students, have an 86% graduation rate, according to Egbert.
As prospective student demographics change, community college transfer students represent an untapped pool of talented low-income and minority students.
There are also financial incentives for four-year universities to recruit community college transfer students. Researchers from the Aspen Institute argue that a talented, low-income community college transfer needs less financial aid than the traditional first-year student. The report reads: “At both public and private institutions, community college students can be enrolled for about three years before the cost in financial aid equals that of a traditional student” (Johnson, EdSurge, 7/10/18).