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.
It’s not just the community college to 4-year-college transfers that are a problem. Students transferring from a private college to a CT community college are made to jump through all sorts of hoops to get credits transferred, as well.
The following, is clearly a major flaw in our higher education system that needs to be fixed immediately. “Connecticut does not have a state wide transfer credit system in place”
If a student pursued a liberal arts curriculum at a community college in CT and transferred to a state university in the last 20 years, there’s no reason credits should not have been accepted. Sometimes they don’t go where the students want them, but they count towards overall credits toward graduation. In my experience, if there are transfer problems, it’s because one of two things happen. Students don’t follow instructions at orientation to meet immediately with an academic advisor in the major department (who can often facilitate course substitutions in the major) or academic advisors don’t always ask the right questions about the transfer and miss mistakes. The idea that students lose substantial credits mystifies me. TAP was a huge endeavor that accomplished little because it didn’t address the problem.
The CT state higher ed system has always been about making as much money as it can from its students rather than advancing their interests and careers. This is true from the community college level up through graduate programs. Examples:
1) The Accuplacer Test at the community colleges is a required online test that no one is prepared for and which feeds loads of low-scoring students into noncredit “developmental” courses which aren’t even entered into the course tracking “Banner” system, so colleges don’t even measure their effectiveness in leading to success in credit-bearing classes. The colleges were supposed to adopt “multiple” measures to determine college readiness after a law (PA 12-40) was passed by the legislature, but they hung onto the Accuplacer as a required measure because it filled up those remedial classes, where some students use up their Pell Grant money before they get to take credit courses. The CT colleges have also been slow to recognize high scores on the revised (and much more difficult GED test) to let students skip the Accuplacer. Many other states give credit for intro academic classes based on high GED scores. CT colleges want the bucks from students for those classes.
2) The colleges did away with much of their counseling staffs, so many applicants don’t get the guidance that might lead them to the shorter-term, job-producing training programs that they want. Instead, they get assigned to liberal arts classes that only lead to more associate degree courses with no immediate, practical application.
3) The CT colleges have been allowed for years to reject courses taken at another CT state college or university and force students to take the courses at that college. Again, more wasted time and money.
4) CT colleges have been slow to have their programs offer night time and weekend classes to accommodate working students, which many students are. The colleges are great for offering their own online classes, but these don’t meet the learning needs of many, especially at community colleges.
5) Even at the post-graduate level, the CT universities are all about the money, and they lose many potential customers because of it. For the past 40 years, to get an 092 educational administrator certification at Central CSU, you have to take 30 credits, with some topic areas requiring 6 credits instead of three. At Sacred Heart U, you only need to take 18 credits for an 092. Yes, it costs more per credit there, but many more administrators get their credential there because of the time factor.
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So the answer is to force kids to stay at the community college so that the school makes more tuition income? Gee, who knew that that was the purpose of higher ed?
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