Eliminating Community College to University Transfer Barriers—Embracing Co-EnrollmentGreg Morris | Vice President of Academic Affairs, El Centro College
Recently I attended a college decision day for students graduating from our early college high school. These graduates represent an elite group of students who are simultaneously earning both a high school diploma and an associate of science or associate of arts degree. As I sat on stage, I watched and listened as students, donning their university t-shirts and sweatshirts, proudly proclaimed their university admission acceptances and declared their chosen institution to attend. As student after student walked across the stage, I began to contemplate the growing local and national emphasis on guided pathways, meta-majors and other pathway strategies and pondered why seamless transfer has, for so long, confounded community college and baccalaureate institutions alike.
To an individual outside of the higher education system, the solution would seem to be quite simple. How difficult should it be for community colleges to help a student identify their preferred transfer institution, select their degree of choice, attain a list of community college courses they’ll need to take, chart out a path to complete those courses in a reasonable amount of time, and transfer to the four-year institution once completed?
Simple, yes? Well, not so much.
Even if the overwhelming barriers facing community college students could be eliminated—mainly the lack of college preparedness, limited financial resources, and competing work, life and family priorities—students still face huge challenges when transitioning between institutions. One of the biggest challenges is that, all too often, students who’ve taken all the right steps and finished their general education requirements in two years at the community college are still unsuccessful in either transferring and/or finishing their baccalaureate degree in a timely manner.
Why is this happening?
First, although articulation agreements, state-mandated general education core curricula, and meta-major and other guided pathway efforts can promote timely completion and transfer, far too many four-year university degree programs and services are naturally designed with the traditional freshman in mind and not the transfer student. Extensive pre-requisite courses in the major that require a series of courses at the freshman through the senior level, math courses that are unique to each specific major, and other university-specific courses not available at the community college, can many times add significant years of course work requirements for the transfer student who transferred 60 or more transferrable credits.
Second, many students fail to transfer to baccalaureate institutions because they are unsuccessful in navigating through the transfer admission process or simply cannot fully connect with their transfer institution during the transfer process. Many times, transfer students experience a lack of both physical and psychological connection to their chosen transfer university. For others, it’s simply a matter of leaving one institution for another, both of which have completely different policies, rule and admission requirements. Unfortunately for many transfer students, it’s like starting over. Community colleges and universities alike systematically fail to align their admission requirements, share document requirements, or invest in data-sharing capabilities that could dramatically improve successful transition for the millions of transfer students across the nation. At a time when transfer students should be enjoying the accomplishment of university acceptance and focusing on university enculturation, they are disoriented and deflated due to the overwhelming complexities of transferring.
Eliminating Transfer Barriers through Unique Co-Enrollment Programs
One of the ways in which community colleges and universities are combatting these issues is through the creation of truly co-enrollment models that reduce transfer issues and present a consistent transition experience to transfer students. Recently, El Centro College and their sister college, Richland College, partnered with Texas A&M University-College Station (Texas A&M), a public flagship institution in Texas, to launch the Texas A&M Chevron Engineering Academy at El Centro College and Richland College (Academy). The main tenets of the program were founded on the goal to reduce transfer barriers and increase credential attainment through a robust, systematic co-enrollment program. The program is designed specifically to train a new generation of future engineers who can begin at the community college while simultaneously gaining admission into the prestigious Texas A&M University-College Station College of Engineering whereby they enroll in university-level engineering courses on day one.
The program’s success is based on several major components:
1. Shared Admission Components
In the Academy model, community college and university partners each play a role in the review and admission of students into this one-of-a-kind program. Students are recruited and pre-qualified by each institution, and then dually admitted to both institutions. Crucial admission-relevant demographic, test score, and transcript information are shared between institutions and serve to reduce the transfer barriers at the time of transition to Texas A&M.
2. Transparent and Meaningful Pathway Design
Just like other traditional community college students, Academy students earn their general education courses, including all math and science prerequisites at El Centro College or Richland College; however, they are simultaneously enrolled in foundational Texas A&M engineering courses, starting in their first semester. These Texas A&M engineering courses are taught on El Centro College’s campus by Texas A&M faculty who are permanently assigned to the community college campus. Texas A&M purposefully designed this model so that students would experience identical content of engineering instruction, whether at the main campus or at the community college campus, further acculturating the student for eventual transfer.
3. Key Transfer Milestones Identified and Guaranteed
At key points during their freshman and sophomore experience, Academy students have clear transition milestone points that inform their decision making about when to transition into the College of Engineering. Students are informed of these transition milestones and the corresponding minimum GPA requirements and required courses needed to ensure a seamless transition with no surprises. The Academy model also provides guaranteed admission for Academy students into the Engineering program of their choice, pending meeting certain GPA and course completion thresholds.
4. Successful Enculturation to the Campus and the University Experience
During the first semester at El Centro College and Richland College, Academy students are exposed to a full-array of experiences that acculturate them to Texas A&M experience. Student trips to college football games at Texas A&M are organized; Texas A&M alumni and corporate leaders engage with freshman, and students gain full access to the same student services as students attending the main campus.
Real and Meaningful Change in our Higher Education Systems
Programs like the Texas A&M Chevron Engineering Academy at El Centro College and Richland College provide a small glimpse into a truly collaborative approach between community colleges and universities to increase successful transfer and baccalaureate credential attainment. The Academy provides only one example of a model of how they give meaning to seamless pathway concepts. Community college and university leaders are deliberately trading signing ceremonies and articulation agreement photo-ops and replacing them with tangible system redesigns that get to the core of creating a seamless higher education system in the nation.