Grant Announcement: New Report Recommends Policy Levers to Strengthen Transfer Success

Greater Texas Foundation awarded funding to the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, to support research on ways to improve postsecondary success for Texas transfer students. In the report to GTF, CCRC recommended ways state policy could help to improve outcomes for students who intend to transfer to a four-year institution from a community college. The report was prepared by Thomas Bailey, Davis Jenkins and John Fink of CCRC, as well as Jenna Cullinane and Lauren Schudde of The University of Texas at Austin.

“Greater Texas Foundation supports efforts to ensure all Texas students are prepared for, have access to, and persist in, and complete a postsecondary credential,’’ said Mr. Ralph Rushing, Chair and Interim Chief Executive of Greater Texas Foundation. “Successful transfer between two- and four-year institutions can be very challenging for our students. We are pleased to support a research-based approach to understanding institutional and policy barriers related to transfer.”

Texas relies heavily on its community colleges to provide low-cost access to undergraduate coursework for students pursuing a bachelor’s degree. According to CCRC, although most Texas students who enter higher education through a community college enroll in transfer programs, “only 35 percent transfer and only 15 percent earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of starting at a community college.”

The report was based on three sets of analyses: (1) analysis of National Student Clearinghouse data on transfer and degree outcomes for Texas students compared to those in other states; (2) analysis of state transfer policies to better understand the policy environment and identify policies that may facilitate or inhibit transfer success in the state; and (3) interviews with more than 50 individuals at 36 Texas colleges on how state policy plays out on the ground with students and institutions.

CCRC found that the existing transfer policy in Texas failed to help students transfer successfully and efficiently, primarily because students do not have clear “transfer pathways” that lead from community college enrollment through transfer, to bachelor’s completion, nor are students “given much help in choosing, entering, and staying on transfer pathways.”

CCRC recommended three major ways to improve transfer student success:

  1. Create stronger transfer pathways. This includes providing clear guidance for students on which Texas general education courses to take for particular fields, as well as expanding and strengthening the statewide field of study curricula to the most popular transfer majors.
  2. Help students choose and enter a transfer pathway. Administrators and policymakers should require community college students to choose a broad field or meta-major early on, ensure that college courses students take in high school through dual credit opportunities are applicable to a degree, and strengthen alignment between HB5 endorsements and postsecondary pathways. In 2013, the Texas legislature passed HB5, which among other things requires high school students to choose one of five “endorsement” fields—STEM, business and industry, public services, arts and humanities, and interdisciplinary.
  3. Build momentum for community college and university collaboration. CCRC recommends supporting regional career pathways partnerships led by regional public universities, as well as exploring statewide financial incentives for efficient transfer. In general, Texas transfer students do not have the same level of access to financial aid as students who enter universities as freshmen. There should also be support of a public education campaign, which would explore ways to (1) help students and parents be more informed consumers of higher education, so they are more likely to take efficient pathways to transferring and earning bachelor’s degrees, and (2) put pressure on educators to offer clearer degree pathways and better support for transfer students.

“Building on the momentum for reform these developments have created,” writes CCRC, “The state policy enhancements we recommend would, we believe, lead both to improved transfer and degree outcomes for students who start at a Texas community college and a higher return on investment for the state.”

Read the full report for more information: Policy Levers to Strengthen Community College Transfer Student Success in Texas

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