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4 The Transfer Mission: Tried and True, But Troubled? Barbara K. Townsend Kristin B. Wilson One of the original missions of the two-year college, the transfer mission was highly criticized in the latter part of the twentieth century. It is currently experiencing both challenges and opportunities due to changing enrollment demographics and governmental interest in transfer and articulation. The community college is unique in its curricular transfer mission. Alone among institutions of higher education, the community college officially prepares students to transfer to four-year colleges and universities by providing the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. This mission was a primary, but not the only, reason for the development of the two-year college. The college has also always provided career education, sometimes referred to as vocational or occupational-technical education. In recent years increasing numbers of community college students have chosen to enter these programs, designed to prepare them for immediate entry into the workplace rather than lead immediately to transfer. In the early 1960s, 26 percent of total enrollments in two-year colleges were in terminal occupational programs; by 1975, it was 35 percent (Cohen and Brawer, 2003), and currently it is over 50 percent. The extent of enrollment in vocational programs varies greatly by state, partly because of state-mandated foci for two-year colleges. However, across the nation, only 49 percent of the degrees awarded by community colleges in 2001–02 were in liberal arts and sciences, general studies, and humanities; 51 percent were in vocationally oriented fields such as business management and administrative services, and health professions and related sciences (Phillippe and Sullivan, 2005). Consequently, some believe that the transfer mission, with its focus on the liberal arts, is at risk. For several decades, critics have charged that some students, particularly those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, were being tracked into vocational programs and away from transfer programs (Karabel, 1972; Zwerling, 1976). Transfer programs themselves have also been criticized. For example, Alba and Lavin (1981) concluded that community college attendance worked to gradually dampen students’ educational aspirations, regardless of academic performance. Critics have also charged that transfer education inadequately prepares students for four-year schools, which results in a lower baccalaureate attainment rate for students starting in two-year colleges compared with those who began at a four-year college. Indeed, there is evidence that if students are equally matched on variables of academic aptitude, race, ethnicity, gender, and so forth, those who start at a community college are at least 15 percent less likely to attain a bachelor’s degree than those who start at a four-year school (Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005). What this perspective ignores, however, is that for some students, starting at a four-year college is not an option because of escalating tuition costs and students’ family or job responsibilities. Because critics of the transfer function focus on transfer rates and transfer students’ baccalaureate attainment, in this chapter we look at estimates of transfer rates and studies of the success of transfer students. We also examine current developments influencing transfer rates and the transfer mission and speculate about the future of this mission. Transfer Rates and Transfer Student Performance Although community colleges have faced much criticism for low transfer rates, no organization or state has ever issued an official statement about what an acceptable transfer rate would be (Townsend, 2002). Apparently, critics believe that if all students expressing an initial interest in transfer upon entering the community college do not do so, the institution has failed. Transfer rates have fluctuated over time, but likely have never been above 33 percent. Current national estimates of transfer rates vary depending on the definition of transfer student. The Center for the Study of Community Colleges (2001) uses this definition: “All students entering the two-year college in a given year who have no prior college experience and who complete at least 12 college credit units [at that college] within four years, divided into the number of that group who take one or more classes at an in-state, public university within four years” (p. 1). According to this definition, the national rate of transfer ranged from 21.2 to 23.7 percent between 1984 and 1989, and was 25.18 percent in 1995 (Townsend, 2002). The National Effective Transfer Consortium, however, defines transfer rate as the number of people who transferred to a four-year school in the fall after having been at a community college the previous semester and having completed at least six credits (Berman, Curry, Nelson, and Weiler, 1990). Using this definition, transfer rates averaged 25 percent during the 1980s (Townsend, 2002). These definitions concentrate on number of credit hours transferred, but ignore or exclude any consideration of the kinds of courses taken. For example, were students enrolled in transfer-level academic classes or terminal vocational education courses, which may or may not transfer to four-year institutions? This point is important because some comments about declining transfer rates include only students in transfer programs or recipients of the associate of arts degree (Townsend, 2002). Transfer rate calculations in which only associate of arts recipients are included ignore the reality that many students in vocationally oriented two-year programs have always transferred to four-year colleges and universities. For example, in Florida the associate of science degree is considered a terminal degree. Yet almost 6 percent of students who started in fall 1993 in associate of science programs in the Florida Community College System subsequently transferred to Florida’s state university system (Florida Department of Education, 1999). In Washington, 10 percent of students with the associate of applied science degree, considered a terminal or nontransfer degree in that state, currently transfer to four-year institutions (Seppanen, 2005). Including these students in transfer calculations increases institutional, state, and national transfer rates. In addition to long-standing concerns about the rate or percentage of community college students who transfer to four-year institutions, there have also been concerns about how well these students perform after transfer. Hence, there have been many studies of community college transfer students’ academic performance. In one of the earliest such examinations, Koos (1925) compared the academic performance of ninety-five two-year college graduates who transferred to one of nineteen four-year institutions with seventy-five “native” students, who began postsecondary study at the University of Minnesota, where Koos was a faculty member. He concluded, “There is no appreciable difference in the degrees of success in the work of the junior years of junior-college graduates and of those who do their first two years of work in a standard university” (pp. 95–96, italics in the original). More recent studies have examined grade point average (GPA) the first semester after transfer to look for evidence of transfer shock as manifested by a drop in GPA. Other researchers have examined declines in GPA over time or rates of baccalaureate attainment. Many studies also take students’ individual characteristics into account to determine which are related to persistence and academic performance. These studies usually include ethnicity, gender, age, transfer credit hours, and transfer GPA, and find some variation in academic performance based on these individual variables. However, almost all studies find that community college transfer students do as well or almost as well as native students, although there is often an initial drop in performance during their first semester (Carlan and Byxbe, 2000; Glass and Harrington, 2002; Koker and Hendel, 2003). Thus, research indicates that transfer students’ academic performance is rarely problematic, at least for those transfers who earned an associate degree. However, students who transfer before earning the associate degree are on average less successful at the senior institution. In general, the more credit hours a student has when she transfers, the greater the likelihood of academic success and baccalaureate attainment (McCormick and Carroll, 1997). However, if only students with associate degrees are counted as transfer students, the national rate of transfer would be far lower than the approximately 25 percent reported by the Center for the Study of Community Colleges and the National Effective Transfer Consortium. Current Developments Affecting Transfer Rates and the Transfer Mission In the next decade several developments may affect community college transfer rates, however defined, as well as the overall transfer function. These developments include community college actions, institutional capacity issues, national activities, and individual student behaviors. Community College Actions. To increase institutional transfer rates, individual community colleges are working to develop programs and relationships with specific four-year colleges to improve the transferability of students and courses. As Chapter Five in this volume describes, honors programs are one way to improve some students’ chances of being accepted at prestigious senior institutions. Other efforts to increase the likelihood that specific courses will transfer include developing course-by-course articulation agreements with individual four-year institutions, and perhaps more importantly, developing institutional and state-level articulation agreements for certain associate degrees. Articulation of the associate of arts degree is most common, but in the past few years states and individual two- and four-year colleges have focused on developing articulation agreements for the associate of applied science (A.A.S.) degree because increasing numbers of A.A.S. students wish to transfer. A recent survey of state higher education officials found that “the majority of states had developed one or more pathways to promote occupational/technical program transfer” (Ignash and Owens, 2005, p. 1). Also, some four-year institutions have developed applied baccalaureates specifically designed to incorporate the associate of applied science degree. Articulation agreements for these degrees count technical courses taken at community colleges as courses for the major. Transfer students with associate of applied science degrees are required to take more courses in the major and enough general education courses to meet the state’s or the four-year institution’s general education requirements. For example, Northwest Missouri State University has an articulation agreement with Metropolitan Area Community Colleges for a bachelor of science in business. Under this articulation agreement, students who have an associate of applied science in general business can transfer up to 84 credits (encompassing the 63 credit hours needed for the associate of applied science and 21 additional hours in general education courses). Because the total hours needed for the baccalaureate is 124, the transfer students may only need to take 40 hours, or about eighteen months of courses at the senior institution (DeYoung, 2001). In other words, they can transfer credits equivalent to the first two and one-half years of college. Other institutional efforts to increase the baccalaureate attainment of students starting at a community college include partnerships with four-year colleges and universities to offer courses that count toward the bachelor’s degree on the community college campus. A more advanced version of this approach is developing a university center on a two-year college campus. In these partnerships, students are accepted into a university program and their credits are accepted toward the baccalaureate, yet they do not need to physically attend another institution. It is not clear whether states or institutions count these students as transfer students; including them might increase institutional and state transfer rates. In 1994 Dougherty stated that the community college transfer mission should be tightly coupled to the four-year institution. Indeed, he believed that community colleges should be branches of the four-year school or even become senior institutions themselves. This thinking may be becoming a reality today, as selected community colleges in several states—including Florida, Texas, and Utah—have sought to increase the number of community college students attaining the baccalaureate by offering and awarding the degree themselves (Floyd and Skolnik, 2005). Dubbed the community college baccalaureate, or CCB, and defined as a baccalaureate awarded by the community college, this controversial degree may affect transfer rates in certain programs. Thus a community college offering a baccalaureate in programs offered at nearby four-year colleges would likely see a decline in transfer rates to those institutions. More specifically, students who might have transferred from a community college to a nearby four-year college’s teacher education program may stay at the community college to attain a baccalaureate in teacher education (Townsend and Ignash, 2003). Under these circumstances, the rate of baccalaureate attainment for a state’s citizens would not necessarily increase, but a particular institution’s transfer rate would decline. Institutional Capacity Issues. Several states are experiencing institutional capacity issues that affect the likelihood that a community college student is able to transfer to a four-year school. In 2003–04, California community colleges were unable to accommodate approximately 175,000 students; that same year, North Carolina’s two-year institutions had to turn away over 50,000 students (Phillippe and Sullivan, 2005). Several of Florida’s community colleges also had to turn away students because of limited capacity (“Enrollment Increasing, Many Students Turned Away,” 2004). Similarly, four-year institutions in the state of Washington have had limited capacity for several years, making the acceptance of community college transfer students more problematic than in the past (Sausner, 2004; “UW Struggling to Accommodate All Transfer Students,” 2005). National Activities. Across the nation many organizations are working to increase baccalaureate attainment rates by facilitating articulation and transfer of credits. For example, the American Association of Community Colleges (2004) has detailed some important pretransfer problems as well as state and system barriers to transfer, such as financial aid policies. Similarly, the National Articulation and Transfer Network, funded by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education and several foundations, is working to facilitate the transfer of courses across state lines. Recent congressional discussions that are part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act have also focused on the issue of transferability of courses and credits. Influenced by for-profit institutions seeking to have their institutions’ credits accepted by nonprofit colleges, congressional members are becoming increasingly aware of the need for agreements that facilitate interinstitutional transfer and increase baccalaureate attainment. Student Behaviors. Greater attention to the transferability of course credits is partially influenced by certain student behaviors. One such behavior is the increase in the percentage of A.A.S. recipients seeking to attain a baccalaureate, as already noted. Many high school students take dual enrollment courses, either at a community college or at their high schools. Dual enrollment courses are becoming increasingly popular because they provide an early and eased entry into college course work, strengthen the high school curriculum, increase postsecondary access for students traditionally underrepresented in higher education, act as a recruitment tool for colleges, and accelerate students’ time to degree (Andrews, 2001). Over 70 percent of public high schools offered dual enrollment opportunities in 2002–03, primarily at community colleges (Waits, Setzer, and Lewis, 2005). If students choose to matriculate at the college offering the dual enrollment course, they have gained a head start on their college degree. If they decide to attend a different college, they must try to transfer any dual credit courses to the college where they matriculate. Although high school students participating in community college dual enrollment classes are not classified as transfer students, they do transfer community college courses if they later attend four-year colleges. They also increase enrollment in two-year academic degree programs. Thus, offering dual enrollment courses can be considered an extension of the transfer mission. Another student behavior affecting the transfer mission is the somewhat common practice of four-year college students attending community colleges concurrently or during the summer to shorten their time to baccalaureate degree completion. Adelman (2004) reports that 6 percent of all students in the high school class of 1992 used the community college in this way. However, because his analysis focused only on traditional-age students, it is likely that far more students engage in this practice, given the high percentage of non-traditional-age college students at community colleges. Like dual enrollment students, these four-year college students are not classified as transfer students, but they benefit greatly from the community college’s transfer mission. Future of the Transfer Mission What is the likely impact of the developments described in the preceding paragraphs on the community college’s transfer mission? On the one hand, the importance of this mission would seem to be strengthened by greater interest in the transferability of community college courses. The mission is also supported by increasing enrollments of traditional-age students, many of whom will aspire to the baccalaureate. By 2012 over three million U.S. students will graduate from high school each year with a peak of 3.2 million in 2008–09 (Gerald and Hussar, 2002, as cited in Kimmel, 2005). This increase will affect community college enrollments: by 2012, undergraduate enrollment is projected to be over 17.5 million. According to Kimmel (2005), “enrollments at two-year public institutions are projected to grow by about 12 percent during the 2001–2012 period” (p. 35). Many of these enrollments will be in transfer programs. Institutional, state, and national efforts to develop articulation agreements for individual courses and degrees—especially in applied areas—also strengthen the visibility and viability of the transfer mission. These articulation efforts should also increase transfer rates, particularly among associate degree recipients. A threat to the mission, at least in terms of institutional accountability for transfer rates, may be the growing movement among community colleges to award the baccalaureate themselves. It is too soon to tell if every state will grant individual community colleges the right to confer the baccalaureate, but currently at least twelve states have done so or are considering doing so. As indicated earlier, offering one or more CCB programs may have a negative effect on an institution’s transfer rate, even though it may actually increase baccalaureate degree attainment. If an institution’s transfer rates are lowered because it offers the CCB, will legislators, policy analysts, and scholars understand the connection or will they escalate criticism of the school’s transfer rates, and by extension, community college transfer rates in general? With the possible exception of the community college baccalaureate, recent developments suggest that the transfer mission is and will continue to be a key curricular mission of the comprehensive community college. However, until researchers and institutional leaders gain a better understanding of why some students’ likelihood of attaining a baccalaureate is weakened by starting at a community college, there will be a significant number of students who wander off the transfer path and fail to achieve the baccalaureate. Community college leaders, faculty, policymakers, and researchers must focus on this group of students in order to strengthen the traditional community college transfer mission. References Adelman, C. Principal Indicators of Student Academic Histories in Postsecondary Education, 1972–2000. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 2004.