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Encouraging Pathways from Community College to Bachelor's Degree

Although some may think of community colleges as serving struggling students who couldn't get into more selective schools, they can be the starting point for academically advanced students. And, recognizing this role, more states are making it easier for students to transfer from one institution to another.

Nearly 28 percent of those who earn a bachelor's degree began their studies at a community college, and 47 percent took at least one course at a community college.

A new policy brief from the American Association of Community Colleges looks at ways institutions and state policymakers can encourage pathways from two-year to four-year colleges.

While higher education has been focused on graduation, AACC's Christopher Mullin suggests transfer is also a core function of community colleges. As policymakers realize the value of community colleges in getting more students to finish a bachelor's degree, strides are being made with cooperative agreements, data sharing, and other incentives to make transfer smoother.

In the brief, Transfer: An Indispensable Part of Community College Mission by Mullin, a program director for policy analysis at the AACC, outlines several practices that four-year institutions can use to improve the transfer pipeline.

He suggests universities develop closer relationships with feeder community colleges, increasing communication between counselors and committing to a strategic enrollment plan that includes serving transfer students. Also, the climate for transfer students can be improved by providing scholarships, monitoring the transfer student experience, requiring they participate in orientation, and reserving housing for transfer students.

A big part of the successful transition comes down to policy.

The AACC brief notes that about 82 percent of transfer students earned their bachelor's degree when the four-year institution accepted all the students' two-year college credits, but just 42 percent completed the degree when only some of the credits are accepted.

In the past decade, more states are entering into cooperative agreements where schools are creating common-course numbering and other moves to make it easier to move from one institution to another.


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