Treatment of Transfers

January 24, 2009 | Blog

What to do, what to do about those pesky community college students? Their graduation rates are so low, they lack big ambitions, they bring those families and kids and jobs, they’re “older,” they’re poorer, they’re loan averse… no wonder their transfer rates to 4-year schools are so low!

Sound familiar? To those of you familiar with the extended policy and academic debate about the educational opportunities created by or diverted by community colleges, well, it should.

I reported Friday about the increasing numbers of students changing colleges. And yet, and yet…here’s an excerpt from a recent New York Times online chat with a couple of admissions gurus from 4-year colleges:

QUESTION: I’m curious as to how admissions criteria are altered or shifted in importance for a transfer applicant compared with a freshman applicant.

QUESTION: How are transfer applicants from community colleges viewed in the admissions process? What advice would you offer these applicants?

Mr. Poch of Pomona: There are huge variations in transfer student possibilities from institution to institution. Some have lots of room and some little or none. USC enrolls more than 1000 transfer students each year. Pomona has room for 10 to 15. Obviously different factors affect both of these patterns and common answers will be hard to find.
Transferring to Pomona is tough. There are proportionally many fewer spaces than there are for first year students in huge part because of the high graduation rate of our incoming first years. Space doesn’t open up. We look at the high school record, especially for those seeking to transfer as sophomores. We look closely at the college record and the extent to which the student has pursued a general education program which would leave them time to dedicate the time they and we would wish to their electives and their major when they enroll at Pomona. We will explore the reasons for transfer and to understand as best we may about why Pomona and how the student sees life changing in our educational environment. Are they transferring FROM something or TO something?

Mr. Brenzel of Yale: Our unusual system of residential colleges makes the freshman year and sophomore years critical to our undergraduate program. So we maintain only a very small transfer program, limited to 24 places each year.

Mr. Syverson of Lawrence: In the case of transfers, the bulk of the academic evaluation focuses on the college record. We welcome transfer applicants from community colleges and treat them essentially the same as transfer applicants from four-year colleges.

What is wrong here? Oh, let me count the ways:

1. Mr. Pomona–A nice back-handed slam against USC for admitting plenty of transfer students, by not-so-subtly suggesting that only poor retention rates could lead to another places for transfer students (Pomona’s 6 year grad rate is 93%, USC’s is 84%). Not true: underclassmen require different classes and services than upperclassmen. Schools often find they can fit more upperclassmen on a campus even when retention rates are quite high.

2. Mr. Pomona again– Oh, beware that wayward transfer student who is just trying to escape from a crappy school and come running to yours… Yeah, we all know about those community college transfer students banging on the doors of 4-year schools like Pomona, just dying to run from their community college

3. Mr. Yale– Yeah, I’m sure the 1st two years of Yale make it so different that students who did their first two years elsewhere could never merit your precious degree.

4. Mr. Lawrence– Why treat applicants from community colleges the same as those from 4-year colleges? Why is this something you are showing off, like it’s a good thing?

Bottom line- why aren’t more kids transferring? Open your eyes: it’s all about preserving privilege. Make the kids spend more time on our campus before they can get a degree (read: pay more money to our school). Keep out those bottom-dwelling community college goers who might try to sneak past the gates. Watch out, in all fairness, students who had an opportunity to earn a BA must be treated the same as those coming from a school that doesn’t grant one!

At least there it all is, in the New York Times!


  1. Reply


    January 24, 2009

    As a college transfer student, I am really interested in your coverage of this issue. Of course, I am not the type of transfer you are most interested in - I transferred from a 4 year school to a 4 year school - but I can say that it was one of the hardest things I ever did.

    Transferring is awkward socially, academically, and emotionally, for all students, no matter where they are coming from. Some schools do a very good job supporting their transfer students by putting them in particular dorms, providing academic services, and making sure they succeed. Others take a more hands off approach, sprinkling transfers around campus and letting them figure things out for themselves.

    As admissions for 4 year schools becomes more competitive and more incoming freshman accept admissions to schools than are expected (as has been happening at my transfer school) there becomes less and less room for transfers, who invariably have great things to offer the school and the student body.

    In many cases, transfer students have more life experiences, work experience, and academic specialization to offer. But unless schools continue to open their doors to transfers, they may be losing out on a great resource.

    All that said, my transfer school takes what I believe to be a very good stance towards transfer from 4 year versus two year colleges. They ensure that the incoming transfer class (usually between 40 and 80 students a year depending on freshman acceptances) is 50 percent 2 year and 50 percent 4 year. That way, they get a balanced set of transfers.

    I look forward to your continued coverage of the transfer issue and how schools can smooth the path for these students.

  2. Reply


    January 24, 2009

    > it's all about preserving privilege

    Sounds more like this blog is about preserving your bigotry.

  3. Reply

    Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

    January 24, 2009


    To Jenny: I'm sorry, maybe it didn't come across in my post, but I am extremely interested in the experiences of students transferring from one 4-year school to another. In fact, I've published on that topic several times. My main point though is that the more disadvantaged students who leave a 4-year college for another end up at a 2-year college-- not a 4-year one. This is significant because their chances of ever completing a BA are reduced, and it therefore makes me most concerned with leveling the playing field for them. Your transfer school sounds terrific. I'd love to know more about why you left your first school, and how you identified where you wanted to go next. I myself also transferred from one 4-year to another-- and I agree, it's very hard.

    To Anonymous: I'm not clear whether you misunderstood the sarcasm (I'm saying these are excuses used to preserve privilege) or whether you just disagree with my assessment as such. In either case, I'm unclear how you can read me as bigoted.

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