The following is commentary provided by Donna Ekal, an associate provost for undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, and Paula M. Krebs, ACE Fellow at the University of Massachusetts President’s Office and a professor of English at Wheaton College via The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Community-college officials must have a special love-hate relationship with the motivated, successful students who leave their institutions with a good number of credits, but no degree, to transfer to four-year institutions. Such students should be counted as institutional successes rather than failures, but until recently, little could be done to officially record them as such.
Data on graduation rates, as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics for the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, count only first-time, full-time students who finish a degree at the institution at which they began in one and a half times the duration it would normally take to complete the degree (that is, three years for a two-year associate degree, and six years for a four-year bachelor’s). So a student who transfers from a community college to a four-year institution and completes a bachelor’s degree counts as a failure, in graduation-rate terms, for both the community college and the four-year institution. Until the government changes its data gathering to account in a positive way for such transfer students, thousands of students who complete their college degrees will continue unrecorded in government reporting. Furthermore, many such students will overlook the full value of the community-college experience that started them on their degree paths.
Help is coming from an unexpected quarter, however: the four-year institutions to which such students transfer. Our institutions, the University of Texas at El Paso and the University of Massachusetts at Boston, along with others across the country, have established systems to ensure that transfer students with significant credits from two-year colleges are awarded associate degrees once they have completed the necessary coursework at their new institutions.