A new effort to increase the number of community college students transferring to some of America’s most elite colleges and universities was launched today, focused in particular on increasing enrollment by students from lower-income backgrounds and communities of color.
The Transfer Scholars Network (TSN), an initiative managed by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and supported by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, brings together several high-profile community colleges and some of the nation’s most selective four-year colleges in an attempt to open a new pipeline for transfer students.
The TSN began as pilot in January, 2021 between 14 universities in the American Talent Initiative (ATI) and eight prominent community colleges. (The ATI consists of more than 130 highly ranked colleges and universities committed to enrolling, supporting, and graduating more than 50,000 talented students from lower-income backgrounds by 2025.) The four-year partners include three Ivy League, several liberal arts colleges, and a number of major research universities, including:
The eight community college partners are:
The basic TSN strategy involves connecting high-achieving community college students with senior admissions representatives at the selective colleges and universities and then following up those connections with a commitment to provide participating students with exclusive webinars and resources, financial aid, other guidance about admissions and financial aid, and dedicated support once the transfers arrive on campus.
According to the press release announcing the initiative, students are nominated for the TSN based on criteria that include “demonstrated academic achievement, financial need, holistic life and professional experiences, and transfer readiness. Once they receive personalized nomination letters, they submit a short application to the TSN portal and are quickly connected with senior admissions leaders at the four-year partners.”
Over the course of the 18-month pilot, the TSN has achieved promising results. The four-year partners connected with 372 high-achieving community college students, more than 70% of whom were students of color. Almost three-quarters came from families with annual incomes of less than $50,000, and six in ten were the first in their families to attend college. Among the preliminary results:
“There is incredible talent within community colleges, including high-achieving students who should, based on their merits, have access and opportunity to take advantage of all that the leading colleges have to offer,” says Tania LaViolet, director at the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “We cannot have true equity in higher education if there is not a path for students across the nation to transfer from community colleges to highly selective institutions.”
“As a part of TSN, we hope to send a message to community college students everywhere that you belong and you can succeed at a school like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” said Jeremy Weprich, senior assistant director of admissions at MIT.
Mark Broadbent, coordinator of transfer affairs and articulation at Holyoke Community College, praised the network, saying that it will allow “high achieving Holyoke Community College students access and opportunities to colleges these students dream about. Through this network, our students can build on their outstanding academic performance, talents and achievements on their educational journeys.”
Plans call for the TSN to expand to additional community colleges and four-year institutions across the country, forming a growing network devoted to increasing transfer opportunity. Such expansion is needed. Looking, for example, at just institutions in the Ivy League, the chances of being admitted as a transfer student is far less than the acceptance rate for freshmen, which averages less than 10%. Transfer is the “road seldom traveled” to many elite institutions.
“Tens of thousands of community college students have the credentials and talent to succeed at our nation’s top four-year institutions—schools that often can offer robust financial aid to transfers and a pathway to well-paying, fulfilling careers. Yet an alarmingly low number of students, particularly those with financial need, end up transferring to selective institutions,” said Giuseppe Basili, executive director of the Cooke Foundation. “If higher education is to deliver on its promise of economic opportunity, stronger pathways between community colleges and selective institutions need to be in place.”