Community college transfer pathway project undergoes phase two

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By EVAN JONES
Capital News Service

LANSING — Community college students seeking to transfer to a Michigan four-year university may be able to better predict the number of credits they can take with them. 

By the end of the year, Michigan’s universities and community colleges plan to sign an agreement to allow community college graduates to apply every credit to four-year universities in four majors — biology, business, criminal justice and psychology, according to Michael Hansen, the president of the Michigan Community College Association.

“That’s a tough thing to get through,” Hansen said. “The universities are not always willing to take all those credits.”

All of Michigan’s public community colleges and universities plan to sign the agreement, but some institutions have final questions before an agreement is signed, according to Will Emerson, the director of student success initiatives at the Michigan Association of State Universities.

Yet, initial concerns have largely been resolved, said Emerson. 

“Minute details are still being worked out by a number of institutions,” he said. “Nuts and bolts.”

Lawmakers in 2014 voted to allow a community college student with a high enough GPA to transfer 30 credit hours to a university.  In 2018, legislators included an appropriation to continue to build pathways from two-year to four-year institutions.

States like Colorado and Connecticut succeed in easier community college transfers because they align the requirements for popular degree programs, Hansen said.

Last spring, state education officials launched a new website for potential transfer students to test course equivalencies between two institutions.

“The recognition that there is so much more transferring between institutions is one of the problems that we were trying to address,” said Erica Orians, the director of the Center for Student Success at the community college association. 

Orians said about 52% of bachelor’s degree recipients had received community college credit, according to 2017 data provided to state legislators. 

However, the number of community college graduates at a four-year university is trickier to determine because there are many types of transfer students, said Lynn Blue, the vice president for Enrollment Development at Grand Valley State University.

Two ways students earn transfer credits without actually transferring include earning community college credit in high school, or taking community college classes over the summer, Blue said. 

“Of the whole population, I would say probably 50% of the students have some transfer credit, though you wouldn’t necessarily count them as a transfer student,” Blue said.

It is too early to tell if the effects of revised course listings will be positive, Blue said.

“It doesn’t help all students,” Blue said. “All students don’t fit in pathways.”

She said Grand Valley State already goes above and beyond to cater to transfer student needs, pointing to nearly 700,000 courses on the new transfer website that qualify at the university.  

“We have a long-standing history of evaluating every course at every community college and posting it,” she said. “That’s really been our mantra for a very long time.”

Some community colleges worry the pathways might replace any specific deals universities have with community colleges in their area, Blue said. But she  dismissed the concerns and said the agreement would be an added feature to the university’s credit application process. 

“I wouldn’t describe what we are doing as disrupting that relationship as much as enhancing that relationship,” Orians said.

Hansen said the incentive for universities to sign the agreement is that they need these transfer students, and one university that’s more friendly to transfer students will receive more tuition funding compared to one that’s less friendly.

Community college transfer students may also be a good bet for universities to take on, according to a February 2018 study which concluded that transfer students performed equally or better than students who initially enrolled at a four-year university.

“There’s this big misconception that somehow community college students are not as well prepared,” Hansen said. “And yet if you look at the data community college transfer students do better in their junior and senior year than the native students that started there.”