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Executive Summary
The Importance of 2/4 Transfer
The Different Dimensions of Transfer
The Accountability Problem and Transfer “Rates”
Research on State Policy and Transfer
Six-State Focus
    New Mexico
    New York
    North Carolina
Lessons Learned about State Transfer Policy
Conclusions and Recommendations
State Resources
About the Author
The Institute for Higher Education Policy
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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Page 15 of 21


The six profiled states vary in their approach to postsecondary policy, including 2/4 transfer policy. All have large public community college sectors and a significant proportion of poor school-age children, but their success in achieving diversity in enrollments varies widely. All have substantial disparities between racial and ethnic groups in retention and baccalaureate degree completion. The community college sectors in these states developed in very different ways, and the states’ diverse approaches to the structure and funding of higher education reflect these differences. In New York, which has a large private sector, public community colleges are governed as part of the public four-year institutions. Of the “high-performing” states, New York has the smallest proportion of students in public community colleges, and tuition at community colleges approaches the cost of public four-year institutions in other states. Florida has a younger and much more publicly planned system for higher education, and its state-centered approach to transfer policy reflects this history, just as North Carolina’s structure reflects its history of community colleges serving primarily a vocational function. Texas’ governance structure suits the historical resistance to statewide control. Both Arkansas and New Mexico are low-growth, resource-poor states with small private sectors.

All the states are struggling with the uneven quality of high school preparation for college, which is putting more pressure on them to implement academic policy oversight on admissions testing, placement, and remediation. Three of the states—Florida, North Carolina, and Texas—are experiencing sharply increasing demand for higher education and are planning for community colleges to accommodate a large share of future baccalaureate completion. The other three states are looking at uneven patterns of growth in demand, with disparities between growing urban areas and stable or declining rural areas. All the states except New York have recently taken steps to strengthen statewide transfer policies. Nonetheless, 2/4 transfer seems somewhat of a back-burner issue in postsecondary education in all six states. Greater attention is placed on remediation and testing, high school graduation standards, affirmative action admissions, and perennial budget problems.

Despite these differences, some recurring patterns are discernible in approaches to transfer policy. For the purpose of comparison, state policies can be characterized as structural (policies that affect the overall approach to postsecondary education) and academic (policies specific to 2/4 transfer). Structural policies determine governance, institutional and sector mission and differentiation, statewide information system capacity, funding, planning capacities, and accountability strategies. These structural policies, along with demography, economic conditions, and institutional histories, determine the preconditions of student transfer activities. Academic policies, in contrast, are designed to influence the internal business of alignment between students, programs, and courses within and across institutions. Academic policies concern admissions standards, curriculum requirements, articulation, and transfer of credit.

Each of the policies listed here has been implemented in at least one of the six states, although no single state has all of them (see tables 5 and 6).

Structural Policies

  • Mission and role for public community colleges: 2+2; transfer and vocational; branch campuses; multiple missions.
  • Governance: segmental or institutional; statewide boards for both two- and four- year colleges.
  • Information system capacity: student-based cohort tracking; periodic reports on transfer performance indicators (e.g., monitoring of acceptance of credits, retention, and degree attainment).
  • Accountability reporting: multiple indicators; separate data on 2/4 transfer; system or campus “report cards”; transfer rates; transfer reporting for four-year as well as two-year colleges.
  • Enrollment planning: general access and capacity planning; enrollment goals; transfer goals.
  • Funding: tuition and financial aid.
  • Incentives: performance goals and funding rewards and sanctions.

Academic Policies

  • Admissions policies for four-year institutions; dual admissions or transfer guarantees; testing and remediation policies.
  • Statewide core curriculum (mandatory or voluntary); articulation agreements (mandatory or individually negotiated).
  • Statewide catalogues; student “course audit” capability.
  • Transfer of credit policies: general; core curriculum; policies oriented to associate degree; “guarantees”.
  • Common course numbering.
  • Common academic calendars.
  • Support for voluntary agreements and cross-sector collaboration.
There is a good deal of commonality between the states on the academic policy side of the equation, as they have all adopted similar approaches to core curriculum, transfer of credit, remediation and testing, and statewide articulation agreements and course catalogues. There are larger differences on the structural side, particularly with respect to the relations between mission, planning, and accountability structures. Whether these structural issues affect transfer performance cannot be determined because the different approaches to data collection preclude comparison. It is clear, however, that the “high- performing” states (Florida, New York, and North Carolina) have stronger ties between their structural and academic policies and fewer gaps in their overall state policy approach to transfer than the three other states.

The high-performing states also have segmental governance structures: their statewide coordinating boards have policy authority and budget review responsibility, and they collect and analyze statewide cross-institutional data. For example, in New York the SUNY and CUNY community colleges report to the same governing board as the four- year institutions, which may facilitate transfer within those sectors. North Carolina, with segmental governance, has a good statewide policy, planning, and data accountability structure. Florida is now moving toward a statewide integrated structure while also strengthening local control. In contrast, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Texas rely on institutional governance, and their coordinating boards have less power in the areas of planning and accountability.

These states also differ in their approach to need-based aid for students in community colleges. Texas is the only state among the six that has designed a state aid program designed to reach community college students. The three high-performing states provide more than the others in need-based aid, but their limits on awards for part-time students dilutes the effectiveness of the programs in reaching community college students. While none of the states has used aid to help students move through the system, they have not relied exclusively on low tuition to promote access. New York’s overall performance is also probably enhanced by the policy of rewarding the contributions made by private colleges that accept community college transfer students. Many of these institutions are in slow- or no-growth modes and are eager to have the students. The Bundy aid that rewards New York institutions for degree production provides an additional—although modest—incentive for them to recruit transfer students.

The states also differ in their focus on statewide performance versus institutional performance. Policy for and oversight of community college transfer have presented a particular challenge for states that measure performance in institutional or sector, rather than statewide, terms, since transfer accountability requires a statewide focus. Even those states that have the most comprehensive policy structures—Florida and North Carolina— seem to be caught between treating transfer as a statewide responsibility shared among all public institutions, and transfer as a performance matter for individual community colleges. This schism manifests itself in ambivalence about priorities among multiple missions for community colleges and, more importantly, in instances of unaligned state policies that conflict with one another. For example, the performance measures in these two states apply primarily to community colleges and not to four-year institutions. Performance measures are not related to funding incentives, except in North Carolina, where performance goals for transfer are tied to incentive funding, although the incentives are weak for increasing the volume of transfer students or for ensuring that they obtain the baccalaureate degree.

In addition, the baccalaureate performance measures in all the four-year institutions in these states measure “time to degree” rather than “credit to the degree.” This standard provides an incentive to serve first-time, full-time students, rather than transfer students. Similar incentives are created by the quality review and ratings services, which stress freshmen admissions selectivity along with retention and baccalaureate degree production as benchmarks of quality. New Mexico and New York both have weak statewide capacity for monitoring transfer, and neither focuses on 2/4 transfer as a priority distinct from other types of transfer. And several of the states treat associate degree attainment as the focal point of transfer policy and performance reporting, even though the majority of students who transfer do so without obtaining an associate degree. Research shows that associate degree recipients are more likely to obtain a baccalaureate degree, yet none of these states provides students with incentives (such as graduated tuition structures or financial aid) to encourage them to follow this pattern. Most state financial aid is instead aimed at full-time students in four-year institutions.

Goals and performance standards for 2/4 transfer are probably the weakest link in the transfer chain in every state, and accountability for transfer is unlikely to be resolved without greater clarity about goals and performance. All six states view baccalaureate- level transfer as one of the missions of the public community colleges, yet none has articulated clear performance goals for 2/4 transfer—not even those states facing steep enrollment growth combined with structural budget deficits for higher education. Improvements in databases that have allowed the states to document the different types of transfer seem to have diffused rather than sharpened the focus on the priority of 2/4 transfer, as they count all forms of transfer (2/4, 4/4, 4/2, and 2/2) in a value-neutral way.

Finally, none of the states has focused on the most serious performance problem affecting community college transfer: the disparities in retention and degree completion among campuses and among racial and ethnic groups. The research tells us that transfer works well, sometimes remarkably well, for some institutions and some students. To the extent that there is a transfer performance problem, as distinguished from a transfer accountability problem, it arises on two-year campuses that do not have a traditional commitment to academic transfer preparation. They serve at-risk students, many have weak programs, and they may not have a reputation for transfer with high school counselors. The state profiles show no evidence that the states are systematically trying to reach at-risk students or institutions as priorities for 2/4 transfer. This means that even if states improve their accountability for 2/4 transfer, their policies may not be addressing deeper issues of performance. An integrated policy approach to transfer will require equal attention to performance and accountability.


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