With Support, Community College Transfers Thrive at Four-Year Schools

When given the opportunity to transfer and provided with adequate financial aid, high-achieving community college students from low- to moderate-income backgrounds succeed at competitive four-year institutions, a study by Brandeis University finds.

The report, Partnerships That Promote Success (136 pages, PDF), evaluated outcomes at eight highly selective colleges and universities that are participating in the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation's Community College Transfer Initiative, a $6.8 million effort to boost the number of qualified community college students who transfer to, and succeed at, highly selective four-year institutions. The evaluation found that with the support of robust pre-admission advising, assistance with applications, financial aid, customized orientation and bridge programs, peer mentors, and post-admission support, CCTI students performed well at their new schools, collectively maintaining a 3.0 GPA, and were active as campus leaders. Four-year institutions also benefited from cross-campus collaboration and increased diversity in the student body in terms of life experiences, income level, and maturity, while two-year colleges were able to strengthen their institutional transfer culture, advising programs, and efforts to develop rigorous curricular and honors programs.

The report also highlights elements of success for effective and sustainable programs, including securing high levels of institutional readiness and buy-in, identifying and preparing the right students and supporting them through and after the transfer process, and forming robust partnerships between community colleges and four-year institutions.

"Despite the high-profile national agenda to improve college outcomes for low-income and underrepresented students, data show that as few as 12 percent of community college students who express an intention to transfer and complete a bachelor's degree actually do so," said Emily Froimson, vice president of programs at the  foundation. "Unfortunately, these same students are much more likely to start their postsecondary education at community colleges than at four-year institutions, meaning statistically, earning a bachelor's degree is further out of reach for them."