Elite universities tend to overlook high-achieving, low-income community college transfer students, according to a report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (JKCF). In doing so, they miss out on an opportunity to enroll talented students and diversify their student population, writes Scott Jaschik for Inside Higher Ed.
According to the report, more than 49% of all college students begin their college education at a community college. But just 5% of students enrolled in elite institutions began their college education at a community college. And the more competitive the institution, the less likely they are to have a significant population of students from community colleges.
In fact, 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.
The JKCF report adds that community college transfers who do enroll in elite institutions succeed. Even more, these transfer students are more likely than their non-transfer peers to come from underrepresented minority groups, come from low-income families, or to be U.S. military veterans.
This “skewed representation” means that elite colleges miss the opportunity to enroll talented students and shape a student body that looks more like a representative sample of Americans, the report argues.
Jaschik reports that, in general, public universities admit more transfer students than private colleges, including transfer students from community colleges. For example, across all undergraduate campuses in the University of California System, 28,750 of the 137,000 students admitted in 2018 were transfer students.
But some elite schools are turning their attention toward enrolling more transfer students. For instance, this fall, Princeton University admitted 13 transfer students—the first transfer admissions in nearly three decades. Several colleges are hiring admissions officers dedicated exclusively to transfer students. And admissions offices are incorporating transfer student enrollment into their overall goals.
Jennifer Glynn, JKCF’s director of research and the report’s author, adds that enrolling transfer students from community colleges may become increasingly helpful for maintaining campus diversity as lawmakers weigh whether or not colleges should consider race in admissions.
“There are many institutions out there that are quite explicit that diversity in all forms is important,” says Glynn. “If it becomes illegal to consider certain things, I think naturally they could look to community colleges for a pool.”
Still, Glynn notes that the JKCF report didn’t measure how many community college students actually apply to elite institutions and adds that recruiting these students may pose challenges. For instance, many community college students apply to four-year institutions close to home because they have jobs or family obligations. Others don’t see themselves attending such competitive institutions or are unaware of the generous financial aid opportunities available to them. “They don’t have a clue how they could finance that kind of education,” says Glynn (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 1/15).
Learn more about transfer student recruitment
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