Students who begin their educational journeys in four-year colleges and universities often move across institutions in pursuit of a degree. Moreover, approximately 40 percent of undergraduates today (and about 50 percent of those attending public institutions) begin their education in community colleges. The majority of community college students aspire to earn bachelor’s degrees, which necessitates transfer to a four-year institution. The pervasiveness of student mobility raises many questions about the possibilities and challenges of movement across institutions.
The federal government has thus far largely been a silent observer of the challenges students face in the transfer process. There are several steps it could take to improve the process and reduce time to degree for students. First, it should facilitate the development of common definitions of transfer and mandate data collection efforts. Second, it could provide incentives for institutions to improve transfer rates. Many community colleges across the country are voluntarily building partnerships with four-year institutions. The federal government should support these endeavors with seed grants.
Third, working with states would simplify the transfer process. Encouraging states to develop a common core of courses that are transferable across all public institutions would greatly reduce the apparent confusion as to what counts as transfer credit. This would not only eliminate inefficiencies in time and effort on the part of students and institutions but also trim educational costs.
Finally, efforts to improve the outcomes associated with transfer need to be accompanied by widespread, meaningful, and sustained academic advising. While institutions should certainly have the autonomy to determine their academic programs and what is required of students, all schools should have sufficient resources to devote time and attention to providing all students with information on course and program selection and linkages to future employment.
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