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Why Do So Few Community College Grads Transfer to Elite Colleges?

by Sharita Forrest / Mar 19, 2019

Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher

Community college transfer students are underrepresented at selective four-year institutions for a variety of reasons, even though a recent study shows that they complete degrees at equal or higher rates than their peers, according to Eboni Zamani-Gallaher, the director of the Office of Community College Research and Leadership at the U. of I.

Eboni Zamani-Gallaher is the director of the Office of Community College Research and Leadership and associate head of the Department of Education Policy, Organization & Leadership at the University of Illinois. Zamani-Gallaher spoke recently with UI News Bureau education editor Sharita Forrest about why so few students transfer from community colleges to selective colleges and universities.

A recent report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation shows that only 5 percent of students at the 100 most selective colleges transferred from community colleges, although 14 percent of their student populations transferred from other four-year institutions. What trends are you observing in community college transfer students?

Almost half of all undergraduates attend community colleges, and many have educational aspirations that exceed this postsecondary tier. But for the past 25 years, community college transfer rates have been stagnant and not reflective of students’ goals.

Roughly four out of five community college students aspire to earn baccalaureate degrees, yet during the last few decades as few as 25-30 percent of community college students actually transferred to four-year institutions.

Although there are high-achieving community college students who would add greatly to four-year campuses, particularly elite institutions, several factors contribute to these low enrollments.

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