The road to a bachelor’s degree: 7 ways to strengthen transfer pipelines

Up to 43% of students lose their credits when they transfer and they take 24% more coursework on average as they stumble in the dark completing their bachelor's.

Community college students who eventually earn a bachelor’s degree via a transfer pipeline are few and far between. Less than 15% of those planning on earning the four-year degree do so in six years, and less than a third even transfer.

Strengthening community college and four-year college pipelines is critical to ensuring equitable student success in higher education, considering the large proportion of Black, Hispanic and other minority students enrolled at the two-year level, according to a new report from the Campaign for College Opportunity.

The transfer pipeline suffers largely due to two key aspects. Institutions fail to designate clear transfer pathways, and they lack sufficient advising for students intending to transfer. More than 60% of two-year students who had a college and specific degree in mind never spoke with an advisor. Consequently, students are uninformed about existing yet complex articulation agreements already in place. Up to 43% lose their credits when they transfer, and they take 24% more coursework on average as they stumble in the dark completing their bachelor’s.

“Without clear, structured transfer pathways designed by partnering institutions to set transfer students up for success, the community college transfer pathway largely replicates and reinforces existing inequities among those who do and do not have access to supports and a sophisticated understanding of transfer,” the report reads.

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Strengthening transfer pipelines

Here are several approaches states, college systems, and postsecondary institutions have taken to develop stronger transfer pipelines.

State or systemwide articulation agreements

Transfer agreements at the state level help different two- and four-year institutions align their general education requirements and lay the groundwork for guaranteed transfer policies for those meeting specific requirements. States without systemwide articulation agreements can confound students who face a multitude of bilateral transfer agreements between different schools, each sharing their own requirements.

Major-specific transfer pipelines

Organize faculty within shared academic disciplines to curate transfer pipelines specific to a certain major. This way, transferring students’ earned credits will not only be recognized but they will be given weight toward a student’s bachelor’s degree. This strategy does require selective four-year institutions to broaden access to their majors and reduce the complexity of the transfer process in general.

Strengthen institutional transfer partnerships

To make an individual transfer partnership work between two- and four-year institutions, both need to take responsibility for transfer student advising and support. Advisers from both institutions investing in students at the beginning of their community college journey can better curate students’ major-specific transfer pipeline, monitor their success and supplement them with necessary support resources.

Through a strong two- and four-year school partnership, the latter can connect with students even earlier in their academic journey via dual enrollment opportunities. By the time these students graduate from high school, they will either be equipped to apply to a four-year school or, at the least, be further and more informed in community college.

Redesign community college onboarding and advising

Current transfer pipeline advising rarely goes beyond talking about completing general education course requirements, confounding students as they dig into program-specific goals. The guided pathway framework can provide more specialized advising to transfer students by organizing advisers through broad fields of study and connecting students to fields of interest earlier in their academic journey.

For example, the Ask-Connect-Inspire-Plan framework by the Community College Research Center seeks to cultivate students’ career interests and connect them with students and faculty who share similar interests.

Moreover, four-year schools need to be more proactive in redesigning their partner’s onboard redesign to ensure students aren’t transferring ill-prepared.

Provide additional support to minority students

Redesigning transfer pipelines must have the needs in mind of the minority students they will largely serve. Black and Latinx students, for example, are disproportionately impacted by a fledgling transfer system, according to the report. Create pathways that have these students in mind from the beginning by building inclusive environments that are privy to their culture and lived experience.

Dual admissions

Dual admission programs shared between two- and four-year schools guarantee students an upward transfer opportunity as long as they maintain their academic performance and complete course requisites.

University of Central Florida’s DirectConnect program aligns students to specific UCF bachelor’s degrees and provides individualized coaching throughout their transfer process.

Cultivate transfer-receptive university cultures

Help destigmatize transfer students’ journies into a four-year degree. Recognize their achievements and create inclusive spaces that affirm their identity. The Center for Community College Partnerships at the University of California, Los Angeles advocates for their minority students by recognizing their knowledge, skills, abilities and networks.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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