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Leading Transfer Efforts: Two-Year and Four-Year Leaders Need to Collaborate to Succeed

The EvoLLLution | Leading Transfer Efforts: Two-Year and Four-Year Leaders Need to Collaborate to Succeed
As more and more students enroll in local community colleges as the first step on a multi-institutional education journey, community college and university leaders need to collaborate to ensure more pathways are forged and protected for these learners.

Recently, a faculty chair shared that it suddenly occurred to him that we (community colleges) don’t offer our transfer degrees on our own but on behalf of the universities to which our students transfer, based on the university’s requirements. This was an epiphany to that senior faculty member who never considered that our programs and courses should align with the course guides of the university that awards the baccalaureate degree, that majors and transfer degrees (AA and AS) didn’t stand alone.

This is a perfect example of the silos within which we operate: We offer our degree, even encouraging students to select courses from a wide range of choices that may meet our requirements but not transfer into the major at the university of the student’s choice. Thus, the university awards its degree but unfortunately requires students to repeat credits and take many additional hours already taken at the community college. This professor finally realized that offering our own degree without the university’s requirements incorporated is a disservice to our students.

C. S. Lewis said that “We are far too easily pleased.” He was speaking spiritually but I am convinced that this is true in all aspects of our thinking. We have been far too easily pleased that our community college students do very well when they transfer to a university but until recently we paid no attention to how many actually transferred. Of course, we were shocked to learn that nationally 80 percent of our students declare their intent to transfer but only about 20 percent actually do (and, nationally, only approximately 6 percent of students both successfully transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree). At our college, the rate was actually 8 percent. It’s only been recently that community colleges began to ask such questions as:

1. How many students intend to achieve a baccalaureate degree?

2. How many students actually transfer?

3. How many students actually achieve an associate’s degree/certificate and a baccalaureate?

4. How many transfer courses/credits are accepted into the university’s major?

5. How many courses have to be retaken and at a much higher university tuition/fees and what’s the impact on PELL funding and loan debt?

6. How many students by ethnicity, gender and economic challenge successfully transfer and earn the baccalaureate degree?

7. What are the earnings of our associate of arts and science students who don’t achieve the baccalaureate degree, and what is the cost to them and to our economy?

The point is, there are serious issues we’ve only recently begun to explore because we were far too easily pleased that those who did transfer did well. The greater reality is that few students actually transfer and achieve the baccalaureate because the system doesn’t help them do so.

So what are the responsibilities of community college and university leaders to fix this?

First, we must acknowledge the problem and accept that it is ours to correct because students are negatively affected. We must help our organizations also understand this and help us correct it.

Second, community college and university leaders must accept our joint responsibility to collaboratively lead our community colleges and universities to remedy this mess.

Third, we must address our cultures, our silos and accreditation standards that are often operationalized to reinforce our separateness rather than the imperative of our unity.

Fourth, we must be accountable to our students and their families, taxpayers, and employers to dramatically improve curriculum alignment and advising within our community colleges and through, not just to, our universities, so that students pursue the most direct path to the associate and baccalaureate degrees. Time and cost are increased when we place barriers before students that prevent them from graduating; too many drop off along the way. This creates a financial loss to taxpayers and students and limits talent available to employers. Therefore, we community college and university leaders must take responsibility for rebuilding our systems so they are well integrated and aligned–for the sake of our students. We must hold our teams and departments responsible for collaboration across our systems and to clarify criteria, student learning outcomes and quality to mutually agreed-upon standards so students know what is expected and are prepared along the pathway for the next level of achievement. Employers also need this knowledge. Stackable course sequences and certificates/degrees are crucial for today’s students.

Fifth, we must become intentional, focused on the data and collaborative on developing strategies and systems that actually clear the path for students. Everything is changing in higher education, especially curricula. So we must jointly monitor and communicate university changes in curricula and identify emerging barriers to ensure all parties collaborate to adjust as required so students, families, employers and other stakeholders understand the changes necessary and contribute to supporting students through the continuous adjustments.

Finally, we must collaborate on policies within our own institutions to define the expectations for our faculty and staff and state-wide through the legislature to ensure state policy enhances our efforts to align curricula and systems. States such as Florida that have achieved this level of support have much greater levels of baccalaureate attainment than states that haven’t.

With an increasing number of students attending community college before attending university and many students moving back and forth between us, with the increasing criticism that higher education is failing to graduate students while tuition continues to climb, we must work together to help students succeed and, thereby, bring the full benefit of a college/university degree to our students, employers and communities.

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