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May 17, 2016

Associated Press

A new report published Tuesday is encouraging community colleges and four-year universities to help more students earn bachelor's degrees.

The vast majority of college students in this country say they want to earn a bachelor's degree. But according to a new report by the Aspen Institute and the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, only 14 percent achieve that goal within six years.

In many ways, the deck is stacked against those students seeking to transfer to four-year institutions from two-year community colleges. Many universities refuse to grant any credit for community college classes.

“Helping more community college students successfully transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree is both one of the biggest challenges faced by American higher education and one of the most promising strategies for narrowing both the opportunity and talent gaps in this country,” said Josh Wyner, executive director at the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and co-author of The Transfer Playbook: Essential Practices for Two- and Four-Year Colleges.

The new report highlights practices being used at colleges with successful student transfer outcomes.

For example, in Massachusetts, researchers find Holyoke Community College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst are getting strong results by focusing on rigorous instruction and making a commitment to help students wishing to earn a bachelor's degree transfer.

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That commitment is mutually beneficial, according to researchers.

As state funding for higher education declines and tuition increases, more students are opting for community college, rather than state universities. 

"There's actually a business incentive for universities now to work with community colleges and we're seeing them much more aggressively doing that," said Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at CCRC.

Jenkins says faculty should help community college students choose a major and transfer institution early on.

"Students who have momentum - who bite the bullet with their other responsibilities are much more likely to graduate," Jenkins said. "They do so at less cost to themselves and far less cost to the taxpayer." 

The report comes about a month after Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s administration announced a plan that would freeze public college tuition for students who attend community college full-time and then transfer.

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