Community College Transfer Students More Likely to Graduate Than Traditional Students at Selective Colleges

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New analysis from Jack Kent Cooke Foundation highlights community college students as promising admissions pool for selective four-year institutions

Persistence Report CoverLansdowne, VA – A new report, “Persistence: The Success of Students Who Transfer from Community Colleges to Selective Four-Year Institutions,” released today by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, shows that community college students who transfer to selective four-year institutions perform as well as—or better than—their peers who enrolled directly from high school.

The graduation rates of community college transfer students match or exceed those of students who start at four-year institutions as freshmen. Community college students graduate at higher rates than students who transfer from other four-year institutions.

“These new findings show that community college transfers are competitive students for highly-selective institutions and dispel widely-held misperceptions about these students’ academic capabilities and perseverance,” said Dr. Jennifer Glynn, director of research at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and author of the report. “Community college transfer students are ready to meet selective institutions’ rigorous academic standards and earn their bachelor’s degree.”

This report provides a unique look at the academic outcomes of transfer students, as it is the first report that disaggregates students transferring from two-year versus four-year institutions at selective colleges and universities. At the nation’s top 100 most selective colleges, 14 percent of students transfer in, but only 5 percent have transferred from a community college.

That low transfer rate stands in stark contrast to the growing proportion of college students, many from low-income families, who are opting to start their higher education journey in community college. “Persistence” shows that recruiting community college students is a viable, growing possible strategy for selective colleges that are serious about diversifying their student bodies by socioeconomic background, first-generation status, or age.

“For many students, the decision to begin their higher education journey in community college is simply about financial need and says nothing about their goals or academic preparation,” said Seppy Basili, executive director at the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. “Admissions officers at selective colleges and universities should seek out these high-achievers to support institutional goals including campus diversity and degree completion. The performance of students like our Cooke Transfer Scholars exemplify the incredible potential of this group.”

Selective institutions need not look far to find high-achieving community college transfer students. The vast majority of community colleges in the United States — 84 percent — have transferred at least one student to a selective four-year institution.

Past research funded by the Foundation suggests strategies for four-year institutions to increase access and success for community college transfer students. These strategies include: strengthening partnerships with two-year institutions, identifying potential transfer students early, and supporting transfer students through degree completion.

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The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is dedicated to advancing the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need. Since 2000, the Foundation has awarded $190 million in scholarships to nearly 2,500 students from 8th grade through graduate school, along with comprehensive counseling and other support services. The Foundation has also provided over $100 million in grants to organizations that serve such students.

Media Contact: Amber Styles, 571-442-0772,