The Accountability Problem

For years academics have struggled to gauge the health of transfer activity within community colleges. But no single measuring system can take into account all the forms of transfer activity. Also, researchers disagree about which students to count in the transfer base.

In this melee, two studies emerge as the most helpful in quantifying 2/4 transfer rates. They are the Transfer Assembly Project and the NCES Study of Alternative Transfer Rates.


Based at the Center for the Study of Community Colleges at the University of California at Los Angeles, the Transfer Assembly Project has collected data on transfer rates for up to 24 states over 11 years. Its most recent study (2001) tracks students who first enrolled in 1995.

Its study calculates, from a base of all first-time community college students, the percentage who complete at least 12 units and who transfer to a public in-state university within four years. The trend data show a dip in transfer rates in the 1980s and a rise in the 1990s.

Their most important finding: larger disparities in transfer rates between institutions within states than between states!


This study from the National Center of Educational Statistics explored the results of using different populations of potential transfer students in calculating transfer rates. Published in 2001, the study focused on first-time students enrolling in two-year community colleges from 1989 to 1990.

The initial pool of students included all first-time enrollees as potential transfers. From there, limitations were imposed to define subsequent pools. The broadest pools contained the most diverse socio-economic profiles. Pools narrowed as the definitions of their populations became increasingly restrictive.

The NCES study showed that transfer percentages increased as the profile of the transferring population narrowed. Of all students who entered the two-year college with the expectation of completing a bachelor's degree, only 36 percent transferred to a four-year school. But of those students who declared an academic major and took courses toward a bachelor's degree, 52 percent eventually transferred.

Additionally, the study found that the least restrictive pools contained the largest proportion of students of color from low-income families.


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