- Honors-level coursework, wraparound supports and strong advising may be key to helping community college students complete their programs and transfer to four-year colleges, suggests a new white paper from the Community College Research Center.
- The paper examines the partnership between an education technology firm Quad Learning and several community colleges to run a program called American Honors, which aimed to increase community college students' chances of applying to and enrolling in selective four-year institutions.
- The venture failed to produce a sustainable business model, and Quad Learning has since shifted its focus to recruiting international students. However, the paper notes, 56% of the program's 2014 cohort transferred to a four-year college within three years. Of that group, 44% went on to "more selective" institutions.
Community college students, who are disproportionately low-income and first-generation, frequently "undermatch" by transferring into schools that have "selectivity levels below the students' level of academic preparation," the authors note.
When community college students do transfer to four-year institutions, however, they tend to perform as well as or better than those who enrolled right after high school, according to recent research published by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. That holds true even at the most selective institutions, despite the fact that they enroll a relatively small share of community college transfers.
To combat these issues, Quad Learning teamed up with community colleges starting in 2012 to pilot a program with several elements meant to boost student success. Those included honors-level coursework, proactive advising, clear transfer pathways and small class sizes.
The program was a success for high school students who had planned to attend community college even if the American Honors program wasn’t offered. For that group, the program improved their chances of graduating and transferring into a four-year school.
However, American Honors had "more limited benefits" for students already enrolled in community college before switching into the program. For high school students who would have matriculated at a four-year college but joined American Honors instead, the program "substantially decreased their chances of remaining in college and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in four years," the authors note.
Such findings provide valuable insights into how community colleges can support students in transferring. For instance, students in American Honors indicated that the program's wraparound supports and emphasis on advising helped them "navigate academic and nonacademic challenges," while those who weren't in the program "made little use" of the colleges' services, the authors wrote.
More community colleges are implementing guided pathways and overhauling their advising structures with the goal of improving outcomes.
Even though American Honors saw some success, Quad Learning still failed to generate enough revenue to cover its operating costs and discontinued the program. Further, the report notes the ed tech firm's goals as a private company were at times at odds with those of the participating community colleges.
Those challenges offer lessons on how to craft a better public-private partnership, the authors contend. For one, private companies need to gain a deep understanding of an institution's academic and administrative processes before they work together. Additionally, partners will need to square industry's desire to scale programs quickly with the relatively slower pace of change in higher ed.