Statewide Differences in 2/4 Transfer

By investigating a cross-section of states, Wellman shows that high-performing and low-performing states begin with similar basic approaches to transfer policy.
For example:
  • All the states paid attention to the academic policy aspects of transfer.
  • All have comparable policies for core curriculum, articulation agreements, transfer of credit, and statewide transfer guides including web-based catalogs.
The key difference between high and low performance seems to lie in the statewide governance structure for higher education. The low-performing states have institutional governing structures. The high performing states have stronger statewide capacities for policy and performance.


Other pitfalls also came to light, including:

  • What's missing in the states' approaches?
    None of the six states use all the tools of state policy to energize transfer. Though routinely including transfer as a priority for the community colleges, no state set clear goals for 2/4 transfer performance for all institutions or for the state as a whole.

  • Accountability structures fall short.
    Accountability structures focus on two-year college transfer performance and ignore the responsibilities of the four-year institutions. The danger is that mechanisms in the four-year institutions may actually work against the transfer priority. One example is the requirement to report five-year retention and graduation rates. Two-year college students rarely complete the baccalaureate degree in five years. As a result, four-year institutions may shy away from serving transfer students, particularly if they are funded on the basis of degree performance.

  • Transfer reporting is limited to public institutions.
    Most states are blind to the important role played by private schools in accepting transfer students. States should be vigilantly focused on the equity aspects of transfer performance, both as a policy priority and in their data reporting.

  • Ethnic-minority groups lose out.
    Although high-performing states do a better job of retaining and graduating minority students, all states have major gaps among ethnic groups transferring prior to completing the baccalaureate degree.

  • Financial incentives are underused.
    State aid programs designed for two-year college students are few. The high-performing states provide more in need-based aid, but their limits on awards for part-time students dilute the programs' effectiveness in reaching community college students.


As one measure of 2/4 transfer effectiveness, this six-state survey compared IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education System) data for first-time freshmen enrollments in degree-producing institutions in fall 1991 with baccalaureate degree recipients in 1996-97.

The comparisons show how the states differ in the relative diversity of enrollments and in degree attainment by racial and ethnic groups. More importantly, there are disturbing and consistent patterns indicating that white students persist to the baccalaureate degree at higher rates than either African-American or Hispanic students.


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