It’s August and recent high school graduates and returning students are packing for the move to campus. At Misericordia University, we are looking forward to welcoming more than 400 new first-year students again this year. On campuses across the nation, millions will begin their collegiate careers.
In 2011, nearly 2.8 million students enrolled for the first time at a community college or four-year institution of higher education, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Six years later, more than 1 million students in that class – or 38 percent – transferred to a different college or university.
Sometimes those transfers speed up the time to graduation. For example, a student from a four-year college takes summer classes at another school to stay on track with degree requirements. More than one-third of four-year-college-to-community-college transfers are “swirlers” who often quickly return to the four-year college and work toward a degree. When institutions of higher education work together for the betterment of their students, positive results occur: Students earn degrees on time and begin their professional and personal journeys.
Of the students who matriculated to college in 2011, 1.5 million attended a community college at some point during their academic careers. Many did it for location, as the new school is often located near their home, or for financial reasons. At Misericordia University, we are fortunate to have about 100 transfer students enroll annually. Of those students who transferred to our institution from 2010-12, more than 70 percent of them graduated — well above the national average of 60 percent. That is good news for both the students and our communities.
The Clearinghouse report, though, did contain one surprise for me: Only 5.6 percent of the students who transfer from a community college nationwide during that period received a credential or degree from their starting institution. Students often get the four-year degree, but the work toward the two-year degree never leads to a valuable credential. Why would one not want to have expanded credentials, especially if they did the work to earn them? That should not happen.
First, four-year colleges must work with community colleges to “reverse transfer” courses back to complete the community college degree. Luzerne County Community College, for example, works closely with Misericordia University to support students who want both the community college and the baccalaureate degree. They earn both of them and should have them. Fortunately, reverse transfer is becoming more accepted and encouraged.
Secondly, and in my view equally important, is to give students who begin at a community college a direct path toward transfer to a four-year institution. Luzerne County Community College and Misericordia University have signed 16 agreements that provide the path to maximize the work from their first two academic years. Students graduating from high school can plan a path in business administration, communications, history, nursing, accounting, psychology, and a number of other exciting fields.
Misericordia has similar agreements with Lackawanna College, and Lehigh Carbon and Northampton community colleges, and specific programmatic agreements with Keystone and Johnson colleges. Articulation agreements, in a manner similar to reverse transfer, are rapidly gaining in their number and their simplification of a transfer path that works for students as they move toward a second degree.
Northeast Pennsylvania is fortunate to have higher education options ranging from certificates and associate degrees from trade schools and community colleges to baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral programs at our four-year institutions. When we work together for students, we serve our communities well by creating an educated citizenry and future workforce.
It is my pleasure to welcome our new transfer students soon as we begin another academic year. We have fantastic faculty who are ready to challenge you to be the very best.
Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa.