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Occidental College chemistry professor Chris Craney says some of his best students transferred from community colleges via a bridge research program.
That's substantially better than national averages. Among community college students who intend to obtain a bachelor's degree, on average only about one-third ultimately transfer to four-year institutions, according to a 2001 report from the National Center for Education Statistics.
“Part of the problem is that advising comes late,” says Becky Wai-Ling Packard, associate professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Packard's research focuses on first-generation college students in STEM fields. Many are community college students, who, she says, think they don't have time to seek out advisers for information. More than 75 percent of full-time community college students have jobs, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, and 83 percent of part-time students are employed.
Even the most determined student is often uninformed when it comes to transferring, for example, says Packard. A large portion of community college students who plan to transfer do not talk to anyone at a four-year school about prerequisites and transfer credits, she says.
When transfer time comes, they might find they have to retake a class or two because they took the wrong class at the community college.
“Students don't have time or money to retake a class,” Packard says. Having the right credits is more problematic for would-be science students. Some of their required classes have to be taken in a certain order, Packard explains. And often, the classes are offered only one semester of the academic year—for example, Biology I is offered in the fall and Biology II in the spring. If students miss or have to retake one of the classes, they might not be in a financial position to wait another year for it to be offered again.
Community colleges and four-year institutions sometimes attempt to address transfer issues with articulation agreements, which are designed to make curricula the same at the partner institutions. With the exception of a few states, such as California, that have developed a well-oiled transfer mechanism, Packard says these agreements can be signed and filed away with no follow-up—and no effect.
Bridge program directors, like Mike Gaines at the University of Miami, go heavy on the advising. Gaines makes a point of talking to students and their teachers regularly.
“I started seeing Mike [Gaines] as a father figure,” says Mendoza. “He was really involved and always catching up with us.”
Bridge partnerships like the one at Miami–Dade College and the University of Miami make students' transition from one to the other seamless by, for example, making sure there is no room for uncertainty about transferring credits.
“Both sides have totally bought in,” says Carter Burrus, director of the honors college on Miami–Dade's north campus.
Photo: Darcy Hemley