Making Community College Partnerships a Sustainable Enrollment Tool

Carnegie Higher Ed May 31, 2016 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

The usual challenges for college enrollment officers are being profoundly impacted by outside forces; namely, significant demographic change within our country and an economy that is stagnant for most families. At the same time, there is a projected need for a college-educated workforce. How can colleges meet enrollment and tuition revenue goals while contributing to the nation’s future economy?

A relatively untapped pool of viable candidates for four-year college degrees can be found in our community colleges. Why hasn’t there been more success in enrolling at and graduating these students from four-year institutions? It is a question that is often asked and for which there appear no easy answers. For example, in December 2015, the Aspen Institute and Community College Research Center at Columbia University announced they would be teaming up to advocate for improving the transfer process.

While articulation agreements, dual- admission programs, and active recruitment efforts – all tools currently in place – can contribute to enrolling students from community colleges, the results of these efforts have been mixed at best. In developing a comprehensive strategy to address the situation, one must consider the basic questions asked by prospective transfer students: “Will I gain admission?” “What academic credits will transfer in?” “What is my time to degree-completion?” “How much will this cost?” “How will I be able to afford it?” “Will I fit in at my new school?” The earlier and more comprehensive the answers to these questions, the higher the potential for student success and graduation. It seems like common sense.

While many colleges may elect to engage additional community colleges and their students, employing with more of the same current tactics, I encourage consideration of a process that results in deeper, more collegial working relationships between four-year and community colleges and a more intentional approach to enrolling these transfer students. To get a sense of what this means, one need look no further than the report of the results of the Community College Transfer Initiative (CCTI) sponsored by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation: “Partnerships that Promote Success.”

While CCTI purposely engaged selective colleges and universities seeking to enroll high-achieving students from low-income homes, there are many lessons from the experiences of these institutions that applicable to all four-year institutions. My beliefs have been shaped and reinforced by leading a campus team for one of the CCTI projects; spending a year traveling the country to have conversations with private four-year and community college leaders, heads of state association for private colleges; attending pertinent professional association meetings; and launching the survey project that contributed to the recent publication of “ Strengthening the Transfer Pathway,” a report of the Edvance Foundation.

Community College Pathways (CCP) is designed to provide early and comprehensive answers to the basic questions asked by prospective transfer students. Rather than a program for institutions to join, CCP is a process through which initially a four-year institution adjusts its infrastructure and enhances its campus culture to enroll students completing their associate’s degrees at a community college. In conjunction with each community college partner, explicit enrollment pathways are constructed for each student, ensuring that all participating students arrive at the four-year institution academically competent, personally confident, and feeling connected to their new campus community.

At the end of the CCP development process – the length of which will be determined by the level of complexity the four-year school wishes for its program – the college partners own it. There is no standing required membership fee. Participation in future activities or educational programs will be voluntary, although long-term enrollment successes will serve as CCP’s ultimate prove-up.

Interested in taking a different look at increasing, stabilizing, and/or diversifying your enrollments? Let’s talk.

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