Pathways to Four-Year Degrees

Ensure that transfer students have a fair shot at a four-year degree. Foster an environment of collaboration and accountability in helping community college students successfully transfer to four-year institutions and complete a bachelor’s degree on time in their desired career fields.

Recommendation 10

Pathways to Four-Year Degrees

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A bachelor’s degree is a key goal for many students and is necessary for certain careers. Yet the process of transferring from a community college to a four-year university is often riddled with impediments. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that community college students lose an average of 40 percent of their credits when they transfer to four-year institutions.


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JFF recommends that states define a common set of general education courses that articulate as credit toward bachelor’s degrees. In addition, states should encourage community colleges and universities to create and publicize “transfer pathways” that stipulate the courses that should be completed in the first two years of specific fields of study so that community college students know what classes they should take to be on track for bachelor’s degrees. And when educators establish transfer pathways, they should reach a consensus on which mathematics classes are most appropriate for given disciplines—and specifically determine whether the default algebra-to-calculus track is necessary (as we noted in policy recommendation number eight on college readiness).

Finally, states should require universities to treat transfer students the same as non-transfer students when it comes to registering for courses and qualifying for scholarships and financial aid. States should also track and report transfer metrics for which both universities and community college are accountable, such as transfer rates and degree completion rates.