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The Many Faces of Transfer

It’s always good to read articles on community colleges written by insiders. Matt Reed, with Inside Higher Ed., fits into this category. He’s a dean at a community college in New Jersey, but has background in other sectors of higher education as well, including the for-profit sector. Importantly, he has done plenty of undergraduate teaching. Please read his piece and the complex profile of students who transfer out, and into, community colleges.

Those outside our profession tend to think of students who transfer from our schools as fitting a single pattern. However, as Dr. Reed points out, it’s complicated. He creates several taxonomies to describe the sundry types of students who enroll at a community college intending to transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree. You will recognize each type and may know of some more that could be added to the list.

Imagine, for instance, the stark contrast between summer students and fall students at most of our schools. The former are often “home” from a university, and want to get classes “out of the way.” The latter is more likely to be a first-generation student who needs lots of guidance and help. Frankly, those summer kids will probably be fine regardless of anything we do for them. The first-generation student is where challenges and opportunities are most profound.

We are now in the spring semester. Perhaps you have noticed students who have been “away” to a university and now are back. Why? Money problems? Homesick? Breakup? These are likely culprits, but many students simply crashed and burned academically when they left the nest. And it may not have anything to do with academics. As one male student put it sheepishly, “I spent too much time consulting with Professor Budweiser.” Maybe this should be a special category.

One of the hallmarks of an educated mind is an ability to recognize complexity. Physicians commonly say, “Each person is different,” when prescribing a therapy, which can sound trite, but it also happens to be true. The flu, for instance, is a minor annoyance for some, and deadly for others. There are patterns, but also a great deal of randomness.

Those in academe are constantly pointing out complexity to those who believe a phenomenon is simple, or that a pathology can be fixed with a blunt instrument. But policy makers ultimately must make policy, and the process usually entails fitting square pegs into round holes to some degree. Contending with endless complexity invites paralysis.

Dr. Reed’s piece may be useful to those on the ground, especially in the advisement field—a growing industry these days. Sure, transfer is complicated, but not beyond comprehension.

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