These 8 states’ 4-year schools have the highest graduation rates for upward transfers

Upward transfers also provide institutions with a well of diverse students since two-year students are more likely to be from low- and middle-income neighborhoods and to be Black and Hispanic than their non-transfer peers.

New findings from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) are eerily similar to those of the Department of Education: only 16% of community college students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. But in eight states, when those community college students successfully transfer, their public four-year colleges and universities do their best to ensure they succeed.

California, Washington, New Jersey, Illinois, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Hawaii all boast completion rates among their community college transfer students above the national average of 57%.

College leaders should be hard-pressed to understand which state institutions are retaining community college transfer students and ensuring their success, considering community college transfer pathways are a significant source of enrollment at four-year institutions. One in five students entering public four-year institutions is a community college transfer, and nearly 40% of all undergraduate students are enrolled at the community college level.

Upward transfers also provide institutions with a well of diverse students since two-year students are more likely to be from low- and middle-income neighborhoods and to be Black and Hispanic than their non-transfer peers. Hispanic student transfers make up more than a quarter of all public four-year entrants in 14 states, and the same goes for Black students in six states.

While minority groups illustrated lower retention and graduation rates than their White and Asian peers, a few states were able to mitigate the gap. California and Virginia happen to graduate Hispanic students above the national average, and Washington is the only state to accomplish the same feat for its Black students. Washington and California showed up again for its low-income students, graduating them at rates at or above 57%.

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Massive room for improvement

While several states are excelling at awarding students their bachelor’s degrees relative to the rest of the country, the CCRC and the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program contend that there is still vast room for improvement.

Completion rates are barely north of 50%, and there’s a 25% gap between first to second-year retention and their eventual graduation rate. Additionally, while transfers often lead to the belief that they will earn their degree in two years, only 18% of students do so.

“These reports demonstrate how current transfer pathways are ineffective for most students and not improving fast enough to deliver the bachelor’s degrees most community college students aim to achieve,” said Tania LaViolet, director of research and innovation at the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program.

State schools to take note of

LaViolet and her team found high-performing community colleges and four-year institutions that achieve solid results for all students, regardless of their background. The team is currently gaining insights into how to improve transfer outcomes by researching which specific colleges are succeeding.

One general way four-year institutions can ensure their transfer students succeed is by encouraging neighboring two-year community colleges to accept dual enrollment credits. Community college transfers who arrive at four-year institutions with a pre-transfer award experience, like an associate degree, averaged substantially stronger post-transfer outcomes.

While the Aspen Institute team researches which specific colleges are succeeding at high transfer completion outcomes, here are examples of four-year institutions from the eight states doing the right thing.


Statewide level: Community college students can seamlessly transfer most Bachelor of Arts programs across the state’s public four-year colleges and universities thanks to the state’s Direct Transfer Agreement and Associate of Science transfer degree.

Institutional level: Specifically, at the University of Washington, the “Path to UW” initiative provides students a K16 support system from the high school to the associate degree and the eventual four-year level. As the data earlier described, Washington is a big proponent of equity in the transfer process; 62% of participants in the initiative were people of color, and 75% were low-income.


Statewide level: One piece of legislation in Virginia in 2018 created a statewide articulation agreement between the state’s 23 community colleges and 15 public universities, guaranteeing transfer student acceptance, The Cardinal News reports. The legislation erased individual agreements between two- and four-year institutions.

Institutional level: Also in 2018, Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University partnered to create ADVANCE, a student support program for upward transfers. The initiative offers students specialized help with the admissions process and filling out financial aid and provides students with an academic advisor and success coach. ADVANCE has so far awarded over $2 million in scholarships to its enrolled students, the Virginia Mercury reports.

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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