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University Leaders and Their Role in Supporting Community College Transfer Students

The EvoLLLution | University Leaders and Their Role in Supporting Community College Transfer Students
University leaders need to be aggressive and unequivocal in their support of community college transfer students in order to create more regular and supportive pathways from two-year to four-year institutions.

Supporting students who begin in two-year colleges to transfer successfully to a four-year institution requires an integrated, coherent and sustained approach. At UMUC, where I have served as both the dean of the undergraduate school and now as provost, we have embraced a “full-court press” approach to welcoming and supporting transfer students from the community colleges in Maryland.

We do this because we believe in the mission of community colleges and want to provide the next step for students who have worked hard to earn their associate’s degree. We also know that community college transfers are some of our most successful students; it just makes sense to welcome them to our university.

Creating this coherent and integrated model has to be supported from leadership at every level, mostly importantly starting with the president and provost.

To provide an understanding of what leaders must do, I offer the following five keys as part of a successful leader’s approach to community college student transfer success.

1. Show the Value of Transfer Students

Leaders have a critical role in setting the tone of valuing transfer students from community colleges. In the past community college transfer students were not always warmly welcomed in much of higher education. This was unfortunate both for the students seeking an education and the receiving institutions that downplayed the quality of a community college degree.

Thankfully, today the community college student is much more likely to be valued and welcomed into baccalaureate-granting institutions, and this must begin with the leaders of the University. The president and the provost must serve as the role models for welcoming, supporting, recognizing and championing the community college students who transfer to their colleges and Universities. This must be more than lip service; support must include planning and budgeting for transfer student pathways. Simply assigning community college transfer pathways to advisors or student affairs’ professionals will not create the coherent and cohesive approach that is necessary.

2. Make Transfer Students Part of the Strategic Plan

Working with community colleges to prepare students for a successful transition to a baccalaureate institution must be part of the strategic plan. The strategic plan of a university points to what is important, what must be attended to, and what must be funded for success. Other than the most elite or the most sought-after institutions, most baccalaureate-granting institutions have some intention to welcome transfer students. However, without this intention being called out in a strategic plan, it will never get the attention or support to be anything other than a small initiative relegated to just a few staff members.

3. Budget for Transfer Student Pathways

A comprehensive framework to serve community college transfer students must be funded. Students will not simply pour through your doors once they receive an associate’s degree. Today’s students have many options including other state colleges and universities and online universities. For some students with an associate’s degree in a growing field such as cybersecurity, delaying education for an entry-level job is also very tempting.

Funding a strong framework to attract and support community college transfer students includes at least the following: dedicated advisors, dedicated marketing materials, funds for advisors to travel to community colleges, open houses for students, online and social media outreach, scholarship funds, and dedicated orientation events and processes. Students who transfer from a two-year to a four-year institution need as much support and guidance as first-year students do. In fact, in many ways, they are first-year students again at the upper-division university.

4. Respect Their Associate’s Degree Completion

In the past, upper-division universities were likely to encourage community college students to transfer as soon as possible, often much prior to the completion of an associate’s degree. This was based on the belief held by many university faculty that having transfer students take their courses gave them a better education. This was based on a belief that community colleges offered lower quality education than did a university.

However, much has changed in the higher education landscape. Community colleges are increasingly recognized as a viable, quality on-ramp to higher education. Moreover, we know that when students finish their associate’s degrees before transferring, their chances of success in completing a baccalaureate degree are enhanced.

For that reason, it is important that university leaders encourage through word and practice the completion of associate’s degrees before recruiting students to their institutions.

5. Create Scholarship Funds

Students likely enroll in community colleges due to the affordable cost. In order to provide these deserving students an on-ramp to upper-division study, scholarship funds must be earmarked for them or they will not be able to finish their baccalaureate degree without incurring substantial debt. Providing these students with scholarship funds is a wise investment; those who transfer after completing an associate’s degree are more likely to be successful when earning a baccalaureate.

So, Do Leaders Matter to Transfer Pathways?

The answer is unequivocally yes. Without leadership at the highest levels supporting transfer pathways for community college students, not one of these five keys can be crafted by lower-level staff alone. Leaders point to what is valued in an institution, and lead the way for all staff and faculty to do the same.

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