Over 40 percent of United States undergraduates enter postsecondary education through community colleges, according to the Community College Research Center, with four-fifths of those students indicating they intend to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. (1) These data highlight the need for community colleges and four-year institutions to ensure the pathways between their campuses are clearly marked and are as roadblock free as possible. Although articulation agreements, dual admission and other transfer strategies are in place at virtually every institution, community college advisors say more needs to be done to strengthen the transfer process.

Ease the way into four-year institutions

“We’re having some challenges with students who aren’t getting through the admissions process,” said Dorothy Plantz, director of admissions and advising at Howard Community College in Maryland. “This has even happened when students are working with pre-transfer advisors from the four-year institutions, but then the student tries to get through the application process and isn’t admitted.

“I had a 4.0 student who didn’t initially get admitted to [the University of Maryland] College Park,” continued Plantz.  “Another student who was not initially admitted got a form letter saying she needed a 3.0 with 12 completed credits—and she had a 3.6 with a degree. That’s such a mixed message for them and for us.”

George Budelis, an academic advisor at Harford Community College in Maryland, said that’s particularly disappointing since community college students have already proven themselves to be successful college students.

“All the data show that transfer students do as well or better than native students,” said Budelis. “These are often some of the best and the brightest.”

Create a roadmap

Joan Seitzer, dean for student development at Chesapeake College in Maryland said four-year institutions could assist community college students by providing up-to-date and easily found transfer tools and information.

“Their transfer pieces are not always easily identified on their websites,” said Seitzer. “It’s also critical that there are specific contact people we can call and our students can call. Sometimes students really get the runaround in trying to find information about transfer admission and transfer credits.”

Transfer credits

Budelis said he would like to see Maryland adopt the common course numbering system other states such as Florida have embraced to help reduce the loss of credits in transfer experienced by community college students. Credits lost in transfer is a critical issue, with a recent national study finding that fewer than 60 percent of community college students were able to transfer most of their credits. (2)

Plantz said that states with electronic articulation systems to identify how courses transfer, such as Maryland’s ARTSYS system (3), need to ensure those systems are up to date. Officials from community colleges and four-year institutions within the same system need to do a better job communicating how their courses transfer, especially when they are general education packages, she added.

“We all have to be on the same page going in,” said Plantz. “If it’s gen ed core, it’s gen ed core. The core package is not well identified on all of our community college transcripts. If I did a cursory look I’d usually have to look at individual courses. We need to do a better job identifying core courses.”

Help students plan for transfer

Budelis said community college students also need to take some ownership of the transfer process.

“I think the biggest thing our students could do is be better prepared,” said Budelis, who noted researching programs and transfer options should start with the student.

Seitzer said community college staff should be pushing transfer-bound students to think ahead.

“The biggest thing is getting students thinking about transfer as early as possible,” said Seitzer, who indicated transfer trips to four-year institutions are one way to raise awareness. “Your superachievers are already on top of it, but other students take courses they don’t need, they switch majors, they just don’t understand how early they need to be planning for transfer. And we need to help students figure out where to go to start the process.”

Plantz said communication—both between two- and four-year institutions and between community college staff and their students—is critical.

“We have to be very proactive in some cases and tell students that if they have an issue they need to come to us,” said Plantz. “It may have been a clerical error; it may have been something else. Come in and see the advisor.”

Dr. Richard Midcap is vice president for student affairs at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Maryland.


(1) Shapiro, D., A. Dundar, M. Ziskin, Y.C. Chiang, J. Chen, A. Harrell, V. Torres. “Baccalaureate attainment: A national view of the postsecondary outcomes of students who transfer from two-year to four-year institutions” (Signature Report No. 5). Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2013.

(2) Monaghan, D. B., & P. Attewell. “The community college route to the bachelor degree.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 2014. Advance online publication. doi: 10.3102/0162373714521865.

(3) Maryland’s ARTSYS

Reprinted from “Challenges Facing Community College Transfer Students” in Recruitment and Retention 30.11(2016)5,8 © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.