Inefficient transfer credit pathways are driving up the cost of a bachelor’s degree for students and driving down community college enrollment and completion.
Last year only 79 Connecticut community college students graduated with a Transfer and Articulation Policy (TAP) transfer ticket associate’s degree out of 5,187 total associate’s degrees awarded. Those 79 students represent only 2% of all students who received associate’s degrees last year. This data strongly suggests that the TAP transfer pathways were not designed properly and are not working for students.
A new study by my company, College Transfer Solutions, finds that inefficient transfer credit pathways are costing Connecticut community colleges nearly $16 million in lost tuition revenue per semester. This inefficiency is also driving up the cost of a bachelor’s degree for transfer students. This report shows that higher education in Connecticut is becoming less affordable and accessible for middle- and lower-income students and families. The study found that, 7,463 Connecticut community college students transferred early to a four-year school without completing an associate’s degree. If those students had spent at least one more semester at a community college before transferring, Connecticut’s 12 community colleges could have generated an additional $15.6 million in tuition revenue. [See chart below]
Data from this study shows that “Free Community College” passed by the state legislature, the University of Connecticut’s two years of free tuition for community college transfer students and all the current reform efforts by the CSCU system, including the community college consolidation and guided pathways, are missing the real issues for students and will end up being a huge waste of time, money, and resources. Without a statewide transfer credit system in place, students will be guided into pathways that they will never be able to get through. The “Students First” community college consolidation plan currently involves designing a new academic curriculum around the TAP transfer pathways that are not working for students.
Currently in Connecticut we have two separate transfer credit systems, one to UConn and another to the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities. Recent data shows that these transfer pathways are not working for students. The transfer pathway to UConn, the GAP program, only serves around 10% of all community college transfers to UConn. This program guarantees that students will be admitted to UConn, it does not guarantee that all credits will transfer and apply to the student’s bachelor’s degree.
My previous research, as well as data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), would suggest that the average community college student who successfully transfers to a public four-year institution loses an average of 20% of their credits. This loss of credits would be equivalent to almost an entire semester of credits and would delay the students time to graduate.
While the number of students enrolled in college in Connecticut has been declining, the percentage of students transferring has been increasing. Connecticut has seen a decline in students transferring to public institutions and a huge, 110% increase in students transferring to independent institutions.
Around 80% of community college students who transfer do not complete a degree before transferring to a four year school. Many of these students leave early and pay between three times up to ten times more in tuition to take classes they couldn’t get at their community college because these courses were not offered or wouldn’t transfer.
My previous studies on transfer students, as well as data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, show that students who attend community colleges and are able to successfully transfer those credits to four-year public institutions, have some of the highest graduation rates at the four year colleges.
Community college transfer students represent 49% of all students who complete bachelor’s degrees in the United States. In Connecticut they represent 34% of all students.
A study from the Community College Research Center found that Connecticut is one of the worst states at helping low-income and minority students achieve bachelor’s degrees because Connecticut does not have a state wide transfer credit system in place. Around 80% of the students who started at a community college indicated that their academic goal was a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, very few students were able to successfully transfer and receive a bachelor’s degree. Some of the best performing states in that study were Florida, Washington and California. They all have very efficient state wide transfer credit systems that would be good models for us to follow.
The solution to this problem would be for the state of Connecticut to finally pass a law mandating statewide transfer and articulation agreements between the Connecticut community college system and all public four-year institutions in the state. This would require the faculty and staff of the Connecticut Community Colleges, Connecticut State Universities, and University of Connecticut to establish transfer pathways to ensure the seamless transfer of community college credits. This will ensure that community college students are not paying twice to retake similar classes and can graduate on time with less debt.
A statewide transfer credit system would save the students and the state of Connecticut millions of dollars each year and make higher education more affordable and accessible for all students, especially our low income, minority and first generation college students who are more likely to begin their undergraduate studies at a Connecticut Community College.
John Mullane is the President and founder of College Transfer Solutions, LLC. He has worked for over a decade with community college students as a counselor, advisor, and adjunct professor.