The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s Transfer and Mobility study for 2018 reports that only 5.6% of the fall 2011 cohort of students attending two-year institutions in the U.S. transferred to four-year institutions after receiving either a certificate or an associate degree from their starting institutions. The vast majority of students transferred without a degree.
Of those students who transferred, slightly more than half (50.5%) started at a two-year institution and transitioned to a four-year institution.
Asian and white students at two-year institutions were more likely to transfer to a four-year institution (49.8% and 50.4%, respectively) than black and Hispanic students (33.2% and 39.5%, respectively).
When asked why graduation rates at community colleges tend to be so low, Tom Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center, said the problem lies in how community colleges serve their students. Community colleges offer a “cafeteria style” of learning choices that serve a variety of student needs. But two-year college students are often the first in their families to go to college and have trouble defining and achieving goals. The lack of understanding and support leaves them confused and discouraged when a problem arises.
Community college students who transfer to four-year institutions and receive a degree do not count toward the graduation rate of the community college unless they also earned an associate degree. Two-year institutions are now exploring reverse transfer programs that award associate degrees to students who transferred to four-year colleges as a way to acknowledge the work done at their original institution.
Community colleges are also working on innovative solutions to boosting student retention and graduation rates. For instance, LaGuardia Community College in New York has found that offering supplemental instruction in high-risk courses increases retention. The program students who have successfully completed the course to facilitate instructional sessions and to provide positive mentorship.
Likewise, four-year colleges are partnering with community college to help close the achievement gap. Kathleen McCartney, president of Smith College, a four-year institution, said her college has collaborative agreements with four community colleges: Miami Dade College, Santa Monica College, Greenfield Community College and Holyoke Community College. Community college transfer students at Smith are admitted through a competitive admissions process and graduate at the same rate as those who entered as a freshman.