Every year, millions of students enroll in community colleges with the goal of transferring to a 4-year university and completing a bachelor’s degree. In fact, 80% of community college students identify transfer as an academic goal. However, only 33% of community college students ever end up transferring and only 14% of an entering community college cohort completes a bachelor’s degree within six years (Jenkins & Fink 2016).
Student transfer is complex because it involves the coordination of multiple autonomous higher education systems, often operating in policy environments that offer little incentive for institutional alignment of curricula and degree requirements. Despite the challenges of institutional coordination, transfer represents the most typical student pathway. Almost half of all students completing a bachelor’s degree in 2015-2016 had accrued credit from a 2-year college in the previous 10 years.
The realities of student transfer have implications for how colleges and universities structure mathematics pathways. Individual institutions of higher education cannot scale mathematics pathways reforms in isolation from the transfer institutions with which they share students.
Currently, most state- and system-level policy supports the transferability of credits but does not account for the applicability of those credits to a student’s program of study. Even when students are able to transfer credits, those credits might not count toward their desired majors, which can lead to wasted time, increased costs for both students and the state, and students dropping out of college altogether.
Establishing math pathways that are both transferable between institutions and applicable across disciplines is essential for the scaled adoption of mathematics pathways among institutions within a state and system. Faculty, advisors, and students must be confident that the mathematics courses they enroll in will support their academic and career goals. To ensure students enter a pathway that leads to the timely completion of a degree, with minimal excess credit hours, transfer partners must coordinate and communicate to align mathematics pathways to programs of study. Doing so will enhance student persistence and boost completion rates throughout a system or a region, improving social mobility for individual students and workforce productivity for an entire state.
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