Friday, March 12, 2010


The Ultimate Safety School?

With the Great Recession wreaking havoc on parental jobs, we've had an influx of students this year who normally would have started at a four-year college. For the most part, they still intend to get there, but they're starting at the cc to save money on transferable credits. Some of them have been quite upfront about the economic motivation for starting at a cc, and about fully intending not to stop here.

Although you wouldn't know it from media accounts, which focus obsessively on job training, this has actually been the fastest-growing demographic for us lately. But in a conversation with an anxious parent this week, I realized that many people don't really know how to navigate this maneuver. So, as a public service, a few pieces of advice to consider if you're considering using a cc as your safety school:

1. Don't hide your strategy. It works best if you identify very early, sometimes in ways you wouldn't anticipate. Concretely, that means arranging a meeting with the cc's 'transfer counselor' (or someone with a very similar title) before you even enroll. This person will usually be found in the Admissions office, though I've seen them in Counseling and in the Registrar's office, too. When you meet with the transfer person, ask about the numbers of students who have successfully transferred to specific four-year schools over the last few years. Most cc's with any kind of transfer record usually have a few schools to which they 'feed' the most students. (If there's little to no record of successful transfer, try a different cc.) That means the counselors are likely to have very well-developed senses of which courses will transfer where, and in which majors. If you have a specific destination school in mind, ask about it by name. If you have a specific program or major in mind, say so. It's not unusual for transferability to vary from program to program within the same college, since destination schools often allow individual departments to decide which courses they'll take.

2. In many places, "dual enrollment" are the magic words. Dual enrollment programs involve applying directly to the destination school at the same time as applying to the cc. The best ones offer guaranteed admission to the destination program in two years, contingent upon successful completion of a designated program with a certain GPA. Make sure to ask about this.

3. Go to the financial aid office -- even if you don't need it yet -- and ask about the availability of transfer scholarships. They exist, and they're often quite nifty. I've seen students take two years on the cheap at the cc, then transfer to some pretty impressive places with a full ride based on outstanding performance at the cc. Knowing the application deadlines and criteria well in advance can help you with course scheduling while there's still time.

4. If available, make your course-selection decisions at the cc based on transferability to the college you want. This is easy if you're aiming for a public college or university, and you're in a state with a mandated transfer policy. Private colleges usually aren't bound by those, though, nor are out-of-state publics. Even within the same state, some publics are pretty good at interpreting the rules in, well, idiosyncratic ways. I've seen cases in which the same major at two different destination schools has subtly, but stubbornly, different requirements for the elective courses they'll take in transfer. Knowing those quirks early will allow you to pick the "right" courses at the right time.

5. Once enrolled at the cc, make yourself visible to the faculty. The students who form bonds with faculty advisors, lead clubs, and get involved in the life of the college do better at the transfer game. I know that the cc wasn't what you envisioned for yourself, but holding yourself apart from it will only make matters worse. Nothing succeeds like success, so if you want to show the destination schools what a great student you are, prove it here. Even if you intend to leave the cc in your rear-view mirror, throw yourself into it while you're here. The students who do that get the scholarships, the best letters of recommendation, the most inside dirt, and the best relationships. They also do best in their coursework. It's a win-win.

6. Don't buy the stigma. Yes, cc's get a bad rap; sometimes deserved, sometimes not. But if you let that sap your motivation, it will only hurt you. Think of it as the minor leagues; the best players get called up, and often do quite well. You just have to prove it on the field.

7. If you can, attend full-time. I know this isn't always an option for economic reasons, but some foregone income now can result in a higher GPA and therefore a nice scholarship later.

8. Boutique programs. Look for "Honors" programs, "Learning Communities," "Service Learning," and the like. Many cc's have some or all of these, and you'll often find that the faculty in these areas are remarkably excited to have the chance to work with strong students. If you go in as a strong and motivated student, you will get one of the best bargains in American higher education.

I know this isn't for everyone. If getting geographic distance from home is part of the point of college for you, this doesn't make sense. You'll miss out on dorm life, which is both good and bad. But if economics or life issues push you in this direction, it's possible to play this hand really well.

Wise and worldly readers -- anything you'd add?

I'm will be transferring from my CC in fall.

A big problem is that many departments at 4-year schools want you to have already completed their lower-division major requirements before transferring, and if the program is even slightly esoteric, these courses aren't offered at CCs.

I don't know how common this is, but my CC is very close to our state's flagship and CC students can take classes at the flagship (and other nearby public schools).

In my 2 years at CC, I've taken three classes this way.
However, I haven't met anyone else who has done this and none of the counselors or professors seem to even know that it is a possibility.

You have to fill out a petition to take the class (explaining that it is not offered at the CC but is necessary to meet your educational goals) and get the instructor's permission. This has always been fairly easy.

The best part?? Even though the classes are at an expensive flagship, they only charge you the CC's per-credit rate. Everyone else is paying >$1000 to take a 3-unit class and a CC student only has to pay $60!

I only found out about this because I went directly to the flagship I want to transfer to and spoke to a professor there.

For students like me who are less-than-thrilled to be at a CC instead of the school of their dreams, it's a really nice opportunity. Being able to say that you're taking a class at the flagship and doing very well takes a lot of the sting out the stigma that comes with attending a CC.

Actually, in general I've found it VERY helpful to go straight to the department that I'm hoping to transfer into (instead of trying to get answers from the transfer counselors at my CC). They made me appointments to speak with one of their professors and a student in the major. Both gave me MUCH more helpful advice than the CC's transfer counselor.

And to echo Dean Dad, definitely look into your school's transfer scholarships. At my school, most of them are for pretty small amounts (relative to the cost of attending a public or private 4-year), but there are a lot of them and they really add up!

It takes about 30 minutes to fill out each application and write the short essay. Even if a scholarship is only for $200 (a tiny fraction of tuition at the flagship), that's a lot of money for 30 minutes' worth of work!

I was told that about 20% of the scholarships every year go unclaimed
because not a single person bothers applying. It seems like most people don't even know that they exist.

Ps - Dean Dad, are you willing to answer questions from CC students?
Ashley -- great points! And yes, I'm happy to answer questions from cc students.
I love my community college. I graduated in '07 and transferred to a nearby SLAC that never would have accepted me based on my high school transcripts. I didn't do this by reluctantly attending community college, or assuming that the education I would get there was any less than first-rate.

Rather, I found that DeanDad's 5th point is key. Most staff and faculty really enjoy working with highly engaged and motivated students. They are more than willing to help you succeed in your future endeavors, and none of them want to see you stop your education at the Associate's Degree level.

I've also found that starting my education at the CC level and then transferring to a SLAC is something that people find to be kind of impressive. My typical peers at the SLAC came from private high schools, well-off families, and had ivy league educated parents. By showing that my community college education prepared me well enough to hang with the best of the SLAC kids, I used the low expectations associated with the CC-stigma to my advantage.
Excellent advice from Ashley about advising. I'll emphasize the detail about taking a shortcut around Flagship's adviser and going straight to the department in question. They can be just as in the dark about details of each of 100 majors as the CC's advisers are, particularly when a department is planning to make a change for next fall. Academic committees might know about it, but no one else.

Also excellent advice about taking classes as a "guest" when the class is not available at the CC.

I would add two things to #6 about the stigma of going to a CC.

1) One objective measure I use is the performance of "reverse transfer" students. The ones who got the wakeup call do well (but are seldom the best in the class). The ones who think we are a step down will fail. The population with the lowest success rate in my physics class is the one made up of "guest" students (coded as not seeking an AA degree) or reverse transfers.

2) The same advice I give to students who think they got mis-placed into a remedial course: Go out and get 99 on every test and show us where you really belong.
I could only wish for more transfer students like Ashley. She will succeed where ever she ends up doing whatever she wants to do.

As a CC transfer advisor, my mfirst bit of advice to any transfer student is, "If you know where you want to go, go ask them what will transfer." And I live in on of those "transfer guarantee" states. I tell students this for two reasons: 1) It puts them in contact with that school. If it really is where they want to go they need to get their "face in the place" even if it's only by browsing a website. 2) Even with "transfer guarantee," some (most) departments stongly prefer certain coursework. I usually present with some variation of, "I could tell you what has transferred in the past, but if they changed the requirements and didn't tell me, when you get there and say, 'That guy at the juco told me this course would transfer,' they're going to look around and say, 'I don't see him here. He doesn't work here and he's not the boss of me.'" That ususually elicits a laugh, but the student gets the point. I can put them in touch with the right person but they need to hear from receiving school what will be accepted.

If a university or a particular department really wants transfer students, it will accommodate them and woo them. If they don't want them (and there are some that don't), the student needs to hear it from the department itself (in that most passive-aggressive way that they say it) and not from me because what do I know? I just work at a juco.

I just wanted to echo spazeboy's comments on seeing your time at a CC as a distinct advantage. I went CC>public teaching college>research I and I'm constantly amazed at the amount of social capital that story carries. And not having my hand held for the last 6 years has done wonders for my ability to adapt to new situations.

And my professors at that CC remain some of the most mentally stable instructors I've ever come across. I miss their groundedness quite a bit sometimes.
I STRONGLY agree with what Craig said. Start talking immediately with the admissions people/academic advisors at the school to which you intend to transfer.

We're not a cc, but a regional campus of a system with a flagship campus. We have a lot of people transfer to the flagship. I do a lot of advising, and I always tell them to talk to an advisor at the flagship (and give them phone numbers and names) because the reality of what transfers can be very different from what the printed material suggests.
Also, depending on what state you're in, guaranteed transfer programs sometimes aren't. At the CC where I teach, students are getting stuck in the middle of the system. It has become common for students to complete their part of the deal for 2 years, then have the 4 year tell them, "Of course we'll accept you... when space becomes available. Right now that looks like 2014." The worst part is that if the students don't stay in school, their loans come due, so they have to stay and coast through classes they don't even need. It's sad, and I don't have any idea how to approach the problem.
There is one solution -- economic hardship deferrals from the student loan people. They tend to be pretty decent about the whole business.

In general, great post.
The whole "stigma" about attending CC is going to be a thing of the past. With 4-year school tuition going up 20%-30% across the country, attending CC is going to become the norm, unless you belong to the elite category. In addition, most of us who teach at CC care far more about student success than folks at 4-year schools. (I was at a flagship U before moving to a CC, and I know how much better a teacher I am now)

If you are a strong student and shows that you enjoy learning at CC, I guarantee that you will get a much more satisfying educational experience than across the town at flagship U, not even counting the budget cuts and the price tag.

Something to add to DD's list: A lot of CC's have some kind of honor society, which sends students to all-state academic teams. If you think you're going to ace all your 12 credits at CC, ask your counselors about those since they can be a nice addition to your resume.
Rereading my own comments in light of some others, I should clarify what I meant about talking to the department rather than the generic university transfer advisers.

One thing my former students repeatedly tell me to tell the next group is to be sure to get any advice from the university's advisers (or financial aid people) in writing, with the name of the person who gave it. Their warning is that advice from a generic transfer adviser at Flagship U is just as likely to elicit that "we don't work for them" response as what you got from the juco.
Hmmmm...I attended a CC for 2 years, never meaning to transfer. Then did, lost no credits. After the first year at CC I tried the 2+2 program -- 2 years at CC followed by 2 years at the local University -- and it was so poorly administered I chose a different U. to transfer to.

I do appreciate the "safety school" aspect you speak of -- I got in based only on a GED, no other school would have me. But you gloss over some of the advantages of a CC -- I have only once taken a class in an auditorium (Music Appreciation, taught by the most impressive jackass ever). Small classes, actual contact, faculty interested in education over research. And yes, it was cheap. Although I never graduated (2 credits of Physical Education short of an A.S.) now that I've finished my PhD I may transfer backwards and get my Associates...only as a statement.

So, point by point:

1. I never had a strategy to hide. It's OK to be clueless if you're careful about it. I stuck to the basics. Math, English, History, Political Science. With minor exception these will transfer.

2. Don't think Dual Enrollment existed in Texas, but a good GPA on tough courses speaks volumes.

3. Yup. Even though CC was cheap, I ran out of money. FinAid Office worked with me. God bless 'em, I have made it up in years since with gifts, and will continue, but $600 to a broke kid that can't continue is amazing.

4. See (2).

5. Do this because these are relationships that can last a lifetime. I still keep in touch with my first 'real' math teacher. I have a PhD in math, and he has an M.S. but he's the man. Cares about his students, as people, not a nuisance.

6. Stigma? I'm proud of my CC, and I've worked beside MIT grads with no stigma. Prove yourself with your actions.

7. YES! Devote yourself like it's a full-time job, because it is.

8. Can't comment, as I know nothing here. I did join Phi Theta Kappa when I could, but I;m not sure that's what you mean.

As a side note, many of those who had dreamed of attending their dream school were attending the CC after getting the boot from Dream U. Turns out wants and desires are not the same as actual preparation and dedication.

LOVE your blog. I only follow three blogs faithfully, and your is number 1.
In some areas, such as Washington State and Minnesota, "dual enrollment" generally refers to high school students taking community college classes, hoping to beef up their college applications and/or get transfer credit, rather than 2-year college students taking classes at 4-year schools. I say this just as a heads up to students who might encounter confusion when they use the term as Dean Dad does.
I love my community college. I am graduated in '09 and transferred to a nearby SLAC that never would have accepted me based on my high school transcripts. I didn't do this by reluctantly attending community college,I would get there was any less than first-rate.
I only found out about this because I went directly to the flagship I want to transfer to and spoke to a professor there.
college student safety This high quality general purpose keychain is perfect for students going away to college.
If you have a specific program or major in mind, say so. It's not unusual for transferability to vary from program to program within the same college, since destination schools often allow individual departments to decide which courses they'll take. home tuition
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