Does Increasing Competition for Transfer Students Always Help Them?

In the most recent previous entry on this blog (March 13), I described an articulation agreement between a community college and a university in New Jersey, an agreement that seems to be founded on decreasing the competition for transfer students and instead promoting their transfer to one particular bachelor’s-degree institution.

However, there are also attempts in process by others to increase competition for transfer students, which should be to the benefit of those students.  An organization named Affordable College has developed an app, as well as other resources, for students seeking to transfer.  Bachelor’s-degree colleges pay a fee to participate with Affordable College.  Then Affordable College presents information about those colleges to students at community colleges who want to transfer.  The community college students can use the information from Affordable College to find out how their credits would transfer to each of the participating bachelor’s-degree colleges.  By participating, these colleges make sure that they’re in the mix for obtaining transfer students, and thus for increased enrollment and revenue.  In this way, assuming community college students actually use Affordable College, there is an incentive for bachelor’s-degree colleges to pay the fee to participate and to state that they will transfer many credits.  The community colleges, in turn, receive a “share of the revenue for each successful transfer,” thus providing them with an incentive to participate.

Such incentives work well in benefitting potential transfer students if those students have several possible destination colleges among which they can choose.  But at my institution, The City University of New York, choices are in fact often much more limited.  The 12 bachelor’s-degree colleges of CUNY do not all offer the same majors.  So, for example, a student can only receive a Bachelor’s in Actuarial Science from Baruch College.

Another constraint on CUNY transfer students is geography.  Although the 19 undergraduate colleges of CUNY are all located within the five boroughs of New York City, it can take up to two hours on public transportation to go from one part of the city, and from one CUNY college, to another.  For CUNY students, who are more likely than not to be Pell Grant recipients, and who often must live with relatives and work in order to make ends meet, a very long commute to and from class, home, and/or work can be prohibitive.

Then, too, some of CUNY’s bachelor’s-degree colleges are very selective, including for transfer students. Just because a student applies to transfer to a particular CUNY college doesn’t mean that that student will be admitted.

Thus, the choice of a destination college for a CUNY transfer student can be quite limited.

Benefitting transfer students by fostering competition among the destination institutions will only be effective if transfer students truly have choices as to where they will go.  Unfortunately for many students this is not the case.  Therefore we need additional mechanisms to help such students, including ways to help them transfer as many of their credits as possible.

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