Community College Transfers: What You Need to Know Before Switching Schools

by Joshua Brown
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Ricki Korba got really excited when she found out that she was accepted to California State University, Bakersfield! But then, when she logged into her student account, she was disappointed to discover that her previously taken classes wouldn’t count.

The university did not accept most of her science classes, even though they were taught with the same textbooks as other curriculums. They also denied her for taking too many credits. So Korba, who is learning Chemistry and Music, must take these courses again which will make her studies longer by a year more and increase tuition fees to around $20,000.

Korba, who is 23-years old and from California, said it feels like a waste of time. He thought he was expected to attend a university and take hard courses while doing interesting experiments in laboratories.

Every year, many people go to community college with the goal of transferring to a university afterward. It’s promoted as an affordable route to earning a Bachelor’s degree as tuition fees keep increasing every day.

It can be tricky for some students to transfer from community college to a university. Out of the nearly 1 million students who began at a community college in 2016, only one out of seven earned a bachelor’s degree after six years. One problem that can stand in their way is credit loss, which is when classes taken don’t get counted toward graduation.

Sometimes students don’t get the right advice or guidance from their community college, so they take courses they don’t need. Different four-year colleges have different rules on how to evaluate transfer credits too, which can make it worse. All this results in more tuition fees and extra work that is too much for some students. In the end, almost half of those who attend community college drop out because of this.

Jessie Ryan, from the Campaign for College Opportunity research group said this: “Students are getting really frustrated because these systems weren’t made to help them, just colleges and teachers.”

People have had some success as they search for solutions. In some states, colleges and universities are partnering up to make classes interchangeable. Also, about a dozen states now use the same kind of numbers for all the classes, so it’s easier to keep track.

Unfortunately, problems still occur often.

A study done by the City University of New York system showed that almost half of all the students who transferred from a community college to do a bachelor’s program had to repeat some classes. On average, these students needed to take more classes than an entire semester!

Alexandra Logue, who used to work at CUNY, said that the chances of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree when they first started out in a community college is very slim. This problem affects black, Hispanic and poor students even more so than others since they are usually the ones starting out at community colleges.

Korba was taking classes at Columbia College, which is a college in Sonora. She got help from her counselor and used an online catalog which showed which classes would transfer to CSU schools. But when Bakersfield looked at Korba’s transcript, they said almost all the classes weren’t going to count towards her major.

University officials did not want to talk about Korba’s situation, but mentioned that sometimes there are some classes that need extra review. Dwayne Cantrell from Bakersfield said it is uncommon to lose credits and most classes from local colleges in California are approved without any problems.

Korba is going to stay in school for an extra year and she’s worried that her financial aid may not be enough to cover her tuition and rent. To help out, she’s planning to work more and go to school part-time, but she’s afraid that it might affect the amount of focus and interest she has in school.

In California, it can be hard to go from a community college to a university. Korba is not the only one having this problem. For example, Mea Montañez has already passed many classes at her community college but when she went to San Francisco State University, they said those classes in psychology weren’t good enough and she still needed to take a lot of classes again!

“When I took the classes, I noticed that they were just like the ones I had already taken,” said Montañez who is 34 years old. “Some of them were even more difficult than what I had dealt with before.” University officials explained that although two classes may look the same on paper, there are details within them that maybe different. However, they agreed that more can still be done to improve things. Lori Beth Way who is the dean of undergraduate education at SFSU said, “We understand that some credits might be lost but we have been working on it for a long time now.”

When students transfer to a different school, teachers need to review their records. For example, if someone did biology in their previous school, the biology teacher will decide whether it would be counted or not.

But sometimes, this judgement might be based on unfair thoughts about certain schools, such as community colleges. In addition to that, sometimes the incentives given by money can also affect those decisions.

She said that if students don’t take credits, they need to do more classes at their own school. Teachers can put a tougher requirement for accepting a class toward their major compared to just general requirements.

“That way, it makes money and keeps people having jobs,” she continued. “But this kind of thinking is not making any good long-term effects.”

Some states have made a rule to make it less subjective when deciding if courses count. Maryland’s new rule says that if a course is 70% similar to another one, then it counts as the same and students can get credit for taking it. If a student doesn’t get credit, they must be told why.

In 2010, California passed a law that allowed community college students to earn special associate degrees which would guarantee them admission into CSU campuses. Later in 2021, a new law was introduced which makes it so that all eligible students will automatically start on the track towards those special degrees unless they choose to opt out. This law also sets up specific classes that must be taken and accepted at all of the state universities.

Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University have set up a special program where students from the college can easily pursue a bachelor’s degree at the university. All students are automatically admitted to both schools, and there are 87 different options for which classes they can take in order to earn their degree.

A program called Advance is being made to help decrease the amount of money students lose on credit and also increase their graduation rates. George Mason is working to extend this idea to more community colleges.

Jason Dodge, the director of this special program, said that all students will know exactly what they need to do from the start so they won’t be taken by surprise along the way.

The Big Big News education team got help from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Associated Press is responsible for everything in this story, which was part of a big project by AL.com, Big Big News, The Christian Science Monitor, The Dallas Morning News, The Hechinger Report, The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, and The Seattle Times with help from the Solutions Journalism Network.

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