Community college transfer students who enroll in certain four-year institutions perform just as well–and in some cases, better than–their peers who enrolled right from high school.
The report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation shows that while community college transfer students make up just 7 percent of students at selective institutions (those defined as “most competitive” or “highly competitive”), they are just as likely, or more likely, to graduate than some of their peers.
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Seventy-five percent of community college transfer students analyzed in the report graduated from selective four-year institutions, compared to 73 percent of students who enrolled directly from high school and 61 percent who transferred from another four-year institutions.
Just 9 percent of community college transfer students matriculate at a selective institution, compared to 21 percent of students enrolling directly from high school.
“These new findings show that community college transfers are competitive students for highly-selective institutions and dispel widely-held misperceptions about these students’ academic capabilities and perseverance,” says Dr. Jennifer Glynn, director of research at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and author of the report. “Community college transfer students are ready to meet selective institutions’ rigorous academic standards and earn their bachelor’s degree.”
At the nation’s top 100 most selective colleges, 14 percent of students transfer in, but only 5 percent have transferred from a community college.
That low transfer rate stands in stark contrast to the growing proportion of college students, many from low-income families, who are opting to start their higher education journey in community college. The report shows that recruiting community college students is a viable, growing possible strategy for selective colleges that are serious about diversifying their student bodies by socioeconomic background, first-generation status, or age.
Overall, 49 percent of all college students begin their college careers at a community college. Low-income students are three times more likely to do so (44 percent) than high-income students (15 percent).
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“For many students, the decision to begin their higher education journey in community college is simply about financial need and says nothing about their goals or academic preparation,” says Seppy Basili, executive director at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “Admissions officers at selective colleges and universities should seek out these high-achievers to support institutional goals including campus diversity and degree completion. The performance of students like our Cooke Transfer Scholars exemplify the incredible potential of this group.”
When high-achieving students with financial need do complete a bachelor’s degree, they often do so at institutions where they are “under-matched”, i.e., institutions with student bodies whose average academic capability is lower than their own, according to the report. For the academically talented student, there are numerous documented benefits to attending a more selective institution, including higher graduation rates, increased earnings post-degree, and higher rates of graduate school enrollment.