The relationship between community colleges and four-year universities is generally discussed as a one-way exchange, with students moving up the ladder as they travel their educational pathway.
But the doorway between these types of schools swings more freely in both directions, suggests a study by the Illinois Education Research Council at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
The council spent six years tracking the 2003 Illinois public high school graduates who enrolled at a four-year university. They looked at where those 37,000 students went to school, how often they transferred and whether they graduated.
By the time the data collecting ended in 2010, more than 20 percent of those students did a reverse transfer — moving from their four-year school to a community college.
“Nowadays, student mobility is more common. But I didn’t think the numbers would be quite so high,” said Eric Lichtenberger, associate director of research for the council.
Among some of the findings of the study:
• Men were more likely than women to reverse transfer.
• Students expecting to receive financial aid and those with lower grade point averages were more likely to transfer.
• Only half of reverse transfers made it back to a four-year school, and less than 25 percent earned a bachelor’s degree.
• Reverse transfers represented nearly half of the students who dropped out of four-year schools.
It’s not an area that’s been studied a great deal. So there’s no way to compare this data with previous years’ to see whether reverse transfers are on the rise. But the data, by themselves, do offer ammunition for those who’d like to see changes in the relationships between two-year and four-year schools, Lichtenberger said.
It could encourage four-year schools to do a better job of tracking their students’ academic progress — both for their own purposes and for those of the two-year schools.
Maybe a student will never finish a bachelor’s degree. But while working on that degree, he or she might accumulate enough credits to satisfy the associate’s degree requirements of a community college.
Lichtenberger said some schools had started contacting drop-outs to ask if they’d like help transferring their credits — with an eye toward helping them earn an associate’s degree.
It could represent a significant change, Lichtenberger said, in the relationship between two-year and four-year schools, and one that could help in the nation’s efforts to boost its pool of college degrees by 2020.
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