Catholic Colleges & Universities -- Commentary
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Issue Date:  November 2, 2007

-- AP/Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

A student bikes between classes at San Diego City College June 24, 2007. The school is part of California's community college system.
How community college can be a stepping stone

New America Media

Recent research suggests that a student’s first college academic experiences are critical in increasing their chances of transferring to a four-year college. The number and type of courses students take in their first semester and the grades they earn are also important in determining their chances of transferring.

Community colleges enroll the vast majority of California’s post-secondary students; in 2005, 756,000 full-time students were enrolled in community colleges. Most high school graduates who first attend community college originally aspire to transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree. Yet one-quarter do not return for the spring semester and only a slight majority of those who return still aspire to transfer to a four-year college. Overall, 41.3 percent transferred to a four-year college within six years. This figure varied by race and ethnicity; one-third of African-Americans and Latinos transferred as did 44.2 percent of whites and 52.6 percent of Asians.

Those who take more transfer courses and who do well in those courses in their first semester are more likely to stay in college and eventually transfer to a four-year college. In contrast, students who take fewer transfer courses and get lower grades are far less likely to persist in their goals and in school.

This is true for all racial and ethnic groups, but transfer rates are highest for Asians and lowest among African-Americans and Latinos, even among students who take a full course load and earn high grades during their first semester. About six in 10 whites and Asians who carried a full load of transfer courses went on to transfer, as did just under half of Latinos and blacks.  Among part-time students, the proportion that transferred was significantly lower for each group; just under half of Asians, just over one-third of whites and three in 10 Latinos and African-Americans eventually transferred.

A similar pattern was found when students who earned at least a 3.0 grade point average in their first semester transfer courses were compared to those with lower grades. This pattern suggests that students who are better prepared academically when they arrive in community college and those who can attend school full-time are more likely to be successful in realizing their goal of transferring to a four-year college.

Anne K. Driscoll is a senior research scientist at the School of Education, University of California, Davis, and is the author of a new report titled “Beyond Access: How the First Semester Matters for Community College Students’ Aspirations and Persistence.”

National Catholic Reporter, November 2, 2007

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