Facilitating Transfer for First-Generation Community
College Students. ERIC Digest.
by Striplin, Jenny J.
Most first-generation students begin their educational trajectories
at a community college (London, 1992; Rendon, 1995; Richardson & Skinner,
1992; Willett, 1989). For many of these students, a community college serves
as a route towards the baccalaureate degree. However, to reach the destination
of the four-year institution, these students must often overcome a variety
of obstacles. This digest presents background information, describes the
problem, examines the need for intervention, and identifies strategies
to facilitate transfer for first-generation college students.
DEFINING THE TERMS
For the purposes of this digest, the definition of a first-generation
community college student is a student who attends a community college
and whose parents have not obtained a college degree (London, 1996; Mitchell,
1997; Willett, 1989). Parents' possession of at least an associate degree
is considered achieving a college degree and removes a student from this
category (Willett, 1989). Transfer is defined as the way in which students
matriculate into four-year colleges from a community college after earning
the required number of credits for transfer (Grubb, 1991).
Community colleges have been affected by a large wave of immigration
(Levine, 1993), and many of these incoming students are the first in their
families to attend college (Rendon, 1995). After London and his colleagues
(1996) interviewed hundreds of first-generation students, he found that
they are exposed to new ideas and life styles as they enter the post-secondary
environment. This transition to a new culture often creates an uncomfortable
separation from the students' culture of origin.
For many first-generation community college students, enrolling in
higher education has become a way for them to advance academically as well
as socially (London, 1992). According to London, upward mobility is the
primary goal of most of these full-time first-generation college students.
To become a competitive applicant in today's job market, these students
and their families realize the indispensability of a bachelor's or even
a master's degree (London, 1996).
While some first-generation community college students experience smooth
transitions to four-year institutions, others struggle during the acclimation
process (London, 1989; Terenzini et al., 1993). The college environment
presents new academic and personal challenges to any first-time student,
but these challenges are compounded for first-generation college students
(Mitchell, 1997). Their families sometimes discourage these "educational
pioneers," and this can lead to alienation from familial support (London,
1989, 1992, 1996). In addition, these students are particularly susceptible
to doubts about their academic and motivational abilities; they think they
are not college material (Mitchell, 1997; Rendon, 1995). For first-generation
students, the movement into another culture is markedly uncertain and often
filled with critical self-evaluations (London, 1996). Overcoming these
personal challenges is critical to successful transfer to a four-year institution
DESCRIBING THE PROBLEM
From the beginning, American community colleges espoused transfer as
one of their fundamental purposes (Cohen & Brawer, 1996). However,
Gordon (1996) claims that transfer rates at community colleges have declined
over the past thirty years. Based on an eight-year study of transfer rates,
Cohen and Brawer (1996) found national community college transfer rates
hovering around 22 percent. Effective methods of increasing the transfer
rates of community college students have remained a topic of interest for
educators and administrators alike (London, 1996).
According to Grubb (1991), a large number of community college students
aspire to a baccalaureate degree. Approximately one-quarter of all students
enrolled at a community college will transfer at some point in their educational
careers (Komives, Woodard, & Associates, 1996). Merely expressing an
intention to transfer does not always result in the intended outcome. For
example, at Seattle Central Community College, the number of students intending
to transfer is four times that of those who actually transfer (Gordon,
1996). Furthermore, community college students often have limited information
regarding transfer (Komives et al., 1996) and this lack of information
may hinder their prospective educational possibilities by mitigating their
chances of actually transferring (Cohen & Brawer, 1996).
The conventional struggle to transfer is compounded by the prevalence
of poor academic preparation and low socioeconomic levels of many first-generation
community college students (London, 1992; Mitchell, 1997; Terenzini et
al., 1993). Since college places greater academic and social demands on
students than high school, college students must have the ability to adapt
to these increased workloads (Mitchell, 1997). However, Mitchell notes
that this problem arises because first-generation students are often less
prepared for college than their counterparts whose parents have attained
Poor academic preparation presents a persistent obstacle to academic
achievement (Mitchell, 1997). First-generation students are often placed
in vocational, technical, and/or remedial programs which impede their progress
toward transfer (Rendon, 1995). Rendon (1995) has found that first-generation
students, in particular, receive poor counseling and advising.
STRATEGIES TO FACILITATE TRANSFER
For many years, community colleges have regarded first-generation students
as one of their primary clientele (Richardson & Skinner, 1992). In
large part, the ultimate educational attainment of first-generation college
students frequently depends on their overall college experiences (Pascarella
& Terenzini, 1991). Moreover, both London (1996) and Rendon (1995)
maintain that community colleges have a responsibility to respond to the
needs of first-generation students if faculty, administrators, and staff
are committed to the success of this population.
To increase the overall rate of transfer, enhanced counseling and advising
services, as well as faculty advising, have been effective. Cohen and Brawer
(1996) found that the largest numbers of respondents from both high and
low transfer rate colleges indicated "counseling and advising services"
and "faculty advisors" when asked, "What forces within your own institution
contribute to or facilitate transfer?"
Increased enrollment of first-generation students in Coordinated Studies
Programs promises to facilitate transfer. Gordon (1996) found that interdisciplinary
courses team-taught by faculty members from different areas of the college
provide a natural bridge to four-year institutions (Gordon, 1996).
In her study of factors affecting the transfer rate of first-generation
students, Rendon (1995) points out that clarification of current articulation
agreements can ease the movement from two- to four-year colleges. Gardner
(1996) notes that intervention can enhance the learning, retention, success,
and satisfaction of these students. In addition, Terenzini et al. (1993)
found that many first-generation college students expressed a desire to
"feel connected" and be "a part" of their institution. Consequently, community
colleges can intervene in creative ways to ensure that these students become
involved in the life of their college.
Based on this review, it is clear that first-generation students run
a high risk of not transferring to a four-year institution. Community colleges
have a responsibility to respond to their needs because first-generation
students are overrepresented in these institutions. In order for this group
of students to reap the benefits of higher education, institutions need
to keep these students on the route towards the baccalaureate. To keep
first-generation students on this transfer route, community colleges must
assess their respective clientele and implement strategies for success.
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