A look into the experiences of transfer students and the future of community college
The freshman 15, getting lost on campus, losing friends and gaining new ones, all-nighters during finals week, no sleep, perhaps an occasional party here and there. College is an experience. Students attend four years at a university and hopefully emerge with a degree and what they call the “college experience”.
What about transfer students though? Transfer students are students who transfer from a different four-year university or a two-year community college. These students are usually the ones who run into problems. Whether it’s credits that won’t transfer, programs that can’t be completed in two years, or the difficulty of making friends who already have friends, transfer students “have it hard”.
So how do the experiences of transfer students differ from those of four-year university students? Why do transfer students choose to go to community college before attending universities? How does being a transfer student differ from being a native student?
According to a 2010 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, approximately one in three students will most likely transfer at some point. Community college is on the rise and students are beginning to choose to attend there for two years before transferring to a four-year university. Why is this? It’s usually all about the money.
The estimated annual cost of tuition, room, board and fees at Longwood University is $10,734 per semester for in-state students. Compare this to the estimated annual cost of tuition and fees at Lord Fairfax Community College which is around $2,100 per semester.
Education is being demanded more and more by employers, and U.S. citizens are finding it difficult to find the money to provide this education. How are people supposed to receive an education if they aren’t able to pay for it? Shouldn’t everyone have an opportunity?
President Obama released a proposal for a plan that will change many students’ monetary situations. Although there hasn’t been a large amount of information released, the president provided a few details of the plan.
President Obama emphasizes the important of education and stresses that community college is an important step to ensuring the nation’s educational and economical future. His plan focuses on providing two free years of community college to qualified individuals.
The president provided initial disclosure of the plan in a Facebook video before formally proposing the plan during a speech in Knoxville, Tennessee. According to Fox News, the plan will cost an estimated $60 billion over 10 years.
The plan is aimed at students who are below middle class in an effort to bring them up a class, thus bettering their own lives and the country’s economic status as well.
If the plan is approved, there will be certain requirements which the students must meet to qualify. For example, students would need to maintain a grade point average of at least 2.5. A full list of requirements has not yet been released.
In order for the plan to be put into action, Congress will need to approve it. Once the plan is approved, the states would then approve it individually.
The question which expresses the most concern involves the issue of money. Where will the $60 billion come from? According to the plan, 75% of the costs would be paid by the federal government, while the remaining 25% would be placed on the states.
Many questions still remain and little information and details have been released. Several officials pose questions as to the ways in which students will be allowed to use the money.
Ryan Quigley, a 21 year old junior at Longwood University, transferred from John Tyler Community College in Midlothian, Virginia. He attended the college for two years before transferring. Quigley had originally intended to enter Longwood as a freshman, but had to alter his plan after his father was laid off.
“…we were having a really tough time with money. We were really pinching our pennies and my parents gave me the decision to either come to Longwood or go to community college, and I chose community college. I’m happy I did too, because, had I chosen Longwood, I wouldn’t be able to afford it at this point and I’d be in deep trouble. Money is really the main thing that kept me from coming here as a freshman, but it all worked out in the end,” Quigley said.
When asked if free community college would have helped his family, Quigley said that although his family was already paying the minimum amount possible for his education, two free years would have given them “a lot more breathing room financially”.
Longwood University has enrolled an average of 216 transfer students over the past three years. According to Ashley Woodard, the Sr. Assistant Director of Admissions at Longwood, these past three years have been the highest amount of enrolled transfer students Longwood has seen.
For the fall semester of 2014, there was a total of 567 transfer student applications. Of those 567, 342 were accepted into the university with 216 actually enrolling.
Woodard states that at least 50% of these students transfer with an associate’s degree and obtain junior status at the university.
“I don’t think there will be a huge shift in numbers. We already see an influx of students going to community college because of the economy and it’s more cost effective for their families. But I’m not sure there’s going to be this huge influx of students who are now going to go to community college if this does pass to Congress. Because again, there’s this mentality that college, what’s “real” college, is a four-year university,” replied Woodard when asked if she thought there would be a shift in numbers of students choosing community college before a 4-year university.
Although the president’s plan has yet to reveal more details, the prospect of free education may be a motivation for those wishing to pursue community college with or without the financial help from the plan.
When I spoke with more transfer students at Longwood, I found that many were unaware of President Obama’s community college proposal. After informing them of the proposal, the majority of them said that although they thought it was a great idea, it probably wasn’t going to pass. There was only one student who thought that it would pass.
This student is Jason Tsai, a senior and English major at Longwood University. Tsai entered Longwood as a transfer student after taking a handful of classes at a community college. Although he was a transfer student, he came in as a second-semester freshman. He ended up transferring in around 12 credits to the university, and although all of them were accepted, not all counted towards his degree program. The remaining credits counted as electives.
“I don’t think it’s a terrible idea. And the only reason that I say that is because we are in a market that is increasingly demanding for its workers to have at minimum a college degree….So I think our capitalist society has at minimum a need to invest in its consumers to prepare for that market. I mean if you’re going to make a college education a commodity, a necessity, then you need to fund it,” said Tsai when asked what he thought about President Obama’s proposal.
Tsai went to community college on and off for about a year and worked while attending classes.
“I was working at the time. I couldn't really afford to go to a four-year university, but also just a lot of life issues going on. Getting treated for chronic Lyme, also working, more or less, close to full time, and I just had no way of transportation. So I couldn't afford a vehicle,” said Tsai.
When asked what issues he came across as a transfer student, Tsai said that he didn't attend New Lancer Days and that there was no one there to tell him whether or not he should or needed to go.
“See here’s the thing. At the time, transfer students were in a separate pool from any other first-year student. At least, that was my impression. We weren’t even really encouraged to integrate or anything. You just came in as a transfer student…I think the other thing that made it really weird is that I didn’t really have any sort of counseling or mentorship. I sort of had to figure it out on my own,” said Tsai.
When asked what advice he would give to transfer students, Tsai said, “Just be a first-year. Be a first-year, be open-minded, try new things. Don’t think anything is beneath you or not for you…but at minimum, try to engage yourself. Try different things, especially things out of your comfort zone.”
A student who took a different approach with transferring was Matthew Alexander, a business administration major with a concentration in information systems and security and cyber forensics and security. Alexander attended J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College for three years where he earned his associate’s degree in business administration.
Alexander was not accepted to any of his university choices when he graduated from high school; however, he also thought that attending community college first would be a good transition into college while being able to work full time and save money.
Many transfer students come across issues with universities when it comes to the transfer process. Alexander first came across issues with his community college instead. Receiving a copy of his official transcript took a total of five months and three attempts.
The first two attempts yielded transcripts which were not updated with his degree. Two days before his first semester at Longwood started, the university contacted Alexander and informed him that his transcript was still not updated.
“I had to go to the registrar at the community college and ask them for a copy (of the updated transcript), and they were like, oh, well that takes a week-long process. And I said, well I need it before school starts, and they told me, well you’re kind of out of luck. So I had to write an email and send it to the president of the college and then CC’d a bunch of deans and the office of the registrar on there,” said Alexander.
He received a reply apologizing for the inconvenience and received the transcript copy within 24 hours.
Another issue that Alexander ran into was taking a class at Longwood that he actually didn’t need. The office of the registrar had not evaluated his credits correctly and he ended up taking a math class that he didn’t actually need.
“So basically I hurt my GPA, wasted money, it’s a class that’s useless now. It doesn’t count for anything,” said Alexander. “I didn’t have to take it, but they told me I did.”
Another student who experienced issues with a community college was Nathaniel Wilson. Wilson is a junior therapeutic recreation major at Longwood. Before entering Longwood, Wilson attended Northern Virginia Community College for three years and earned his associate’s in general studies. He decided to go to community college after attending Old Dominion University for a year and not doing well in his classes. Wilson said that community college also helped his family with financial costs and allowed him to figure out what he wanted to study first.
Wilson said the counselors at the college were not exactly helpful.
“They were expecting you to know what questions to ask, but I didn’t know what questions to ask,” said Wilson.
Wilson also had an issue with seeing his degree placed on his transcript. He said it took the college three months until they finally processed his degree on his transcript.
“It takes them three months to process your degree, but you’ve already transferred to the university. So it doesn’t cause a huge problem, but you want to see that you have your associate’s. You want to see that everything has gone through properly, but you don’t get to see that until three months after you’ve left your community college. So I had to send my transcripts in probably about three times until finally it said on my NOVA transcript that I had indeed graduated.” said Wilson.
Although these are only a few accounts of the number of transfer students that I spoke to, these students spoke to many of the issues that transfer students come across, whether during the transfer process or at the university.
I myself am a transfer student at Longwood. I graduated from Lord Fairfax Community College with my associate’s in liberal arts. Although I didn’t have any issues with my community college and didn’t have any issues with credits transferring, I did run across some minor issues.
Like Matthew Alexander, I ran into an issue with the office of the registrar evaluating my transcript and credits incorrectly. Their records indicated that I still needed to take a public speaking class, which should have been covered by a public speaking course I took at community college. So I had to call the registrar and have them correct the mistake.
At first, they declined that there had been a mistake that was made, but after I insisted they recheck the records, they saw there had indeed been an error.
Another issue I ran into was the honors college. Coming from a family that holds high expectations, getting into the honors college was my first endeavor coming into Longwood. During my last semester at community college, I was in contact with a representative from the honors college and requested and received approval to apply.
After filling out application forms and putting together a packet of my work and recommendation letters, I sent them to the honors college only to get an email two months later stating that I was ineligible to be placed in the honors program because I had transferred in as junior status at Longwood. I was told that the program required at least three years to complete.
What made me upset about this is that I had informed the representative quite clearly that I was a transfer student coming in as a junior. All the work and disappointment could have been avoided had she paid more attention.
The last issue that I have run into as a transfer student is social. During the first two months of my first semester, I didn't have any friends. I eventually made friends and they all would say that I’m extremely outgoing and friendly. However, the fact that everyone my age had already established their own group of friends was difficult to overcome.
Now all the friends that I have made are seniors. They’re graduating in May and I know that I’ll have to start the process of making friends all over again as a senior. Although none of the transfer students I spoke with had experienced any social issues, I believe that many transfer students do.
There is no doubt that the experiences transfer students have can be different from native students. Most transfer students only stay at a university for half the time a native student does.
So here is the advice I would give to a transfer student.
Pay attention, get involved, and make the most of it.