Community College Transfer Students Succeed at Selective Colleges and Universities, Yet Remain Underrepresented

By  - 

Community college students who transfer to selective, four-year colleges and universities are more likely to graduate than students enrolled directly from high school, according to a recent report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

The report, titled “Persistence: The Success of Students Who Transfer from Community Colleges to Selective Four-Year Institutions,” found that community college students who transfer to selective postsecondary schools graduate at rates equal to or higher than those who enroll as first-time freshmen. Community college transfer students also graduate at higher rates than students who transfer to selective institutions from less selective four-year colleges.

Several factors contribute to the success of those community college transfer students who enroll in selective colleges and universities, including previous academic experience, determination to finish their degree, and, most notably, talent, according to the study. Previous research conducted by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation found that 84 percent of community colleges in the U.S. transfer at least one student to a selective institution each year.

At the nation’s top 100 most selective schools, however, community college students remain vastly underrepresented. While transfer students account for 15 percent of all students enrolled in highly selective institutions, only 5 percent transferred from community college.

This low number is a stark contrast to the 41 percent of U.S. undergraduates who start their higher education journey at a community college. These students are typically nontraditional, meaning they tend to be older, financially independent, or attend part-time. A vast majority come from low-income families and underrepresented communities: 56 percent of Native American undergraduates and 52 percent of Hispanic undergraduates are enrolled in community college, according to the National Center of Education Statistics.

The study hopes to demonstrate that community college students have the potential to succeed at selective institutions — given the chance. Researchers from the study suggest the first steps to making top-ranking institutions more accessible to community college students is to increase financial aid and embrace a diverse, nontraditional student body.