Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Education Department, Congress Has Sights Trained on Community College Transfer of Credit Problem

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Education Department, Congress Has Sights Trained on Community College Transfer of Credit Problem

Article excerpt

For low-income students, paying for college is hard enough without having to repeat courses. That's why U.S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and many scholars are looking for answers that will help more students transfer credits when they move from one higher education institution to another.

The problem is particularly acute for low-income, first-generation students at community colleges, where transfer agreements may not lead to a student gaining credit for coursework already completed.

Of the 42 percent of community college students who plan to transfer to four-year colleges, only about a quarter of them succeed, Spellings said recently.

"Their inability to transfer credits is too high a hurdle. Every year, millions of students who attempt to transfer are forced to spend more money and time repeating coursework;' she said. "The most costly education is one not begun, or the one you have to pay for twice."

Many colleges serving a large percentage of minority students are already aware of the problem. Sometimes with federal assistance, they have funded initiatives that may pave the way for more students to transfer from two- and four-year colleges and universities.

Educators at the two-year East Los Angeles College offer Learning Communities, an in-depth outreach effort to help students--most of them low-income--navigate the sometimes confusing higher education system.

"The biggest issue is that students don't have the right information" says Dr. Armida Ornelas, an associate professor at the college. "For many first-generation students, this is all new terrain. Most of the time, [community college students] are not taking the curriculum that makes them transfer-ready."

For example, Ornelas says students may take a basic English course even though a higher-level course is required to transfer to a four-year institution.

And even those who can transfer basic courses still need help creating a career path so more of their courses at a two-year college apply toward their undergraduate major.

East Los Angeles College is funding its Learning Communities program through a Title V Higher Education Act grant for Hispanic-serving institutions. The centerpiece of the initiative is a support team that offers students a variety of academic, counseling and study skills assistance.

The program includes peer support, visits to four-year campuses and partnerships with faculty to create block scheduling for students who need it for academic reasons or to balance work and school. …

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