3 Challenges Community College Students Face Transferring to Four-Year Schools


There are many reasons why a student may elect to attend a community college over a four-year school, especially for the first few years. Unsurprisingly, cost is a major consideration, and this is one area where two-year schools shine.

According to 2022–23 figures reported by the College Board, tuition and fees for public two-year institutions worked out to $3,860 on average that academic year, whereas students at public, four-year in-state schools paid an average of $10,950 in tuition and fees. Some students also opt to pursue a two-year degree to enter the workforce more quickly, or they might choose to attend community college so they can live at home.

Yet despite these potential benefits, there are also some major challenges and hurdles that community college students must overcome to successfully complete a bachelor’s degree.

Key Takeaways

  • A July 2021 report from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) found that about 86% of students in community college do not go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.
  • Some of the challenges faced by transfer students amount to lack of information, in addition to lacking guidance on the next best steps when it comes to getting credit at a new school.
  • To address these concerns, the CCRC recommends federal investment in community colleges and processes that could improve transfer credit outcomes for community college students.

Confusion Surrounding Transfer Credits

A July 2021 report from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) revealed that even though many students start community college with the goal of earning a bachelor’s degree, only a small percentage ever do. In fact, only 31 out of 100 community college students transfer to a four-year school, and only about 14 complete a bachelor’s degree from there.

The report notes that this is often due to unclear information and resources regarding transfer credits, such as difficult-to-navigate college websites, which fail to detail what college credits might transfer, and whether a two-year school has any transfer agreements with a specific four-year college or university.

Credits That Don’t Transfer

In some cases, community college students who plan ahead to transfer their credits find that their two-year credits do not transfer to their chosen four-year program. It’s even possible for credits from two-year schools to be ineligible for transfer altogether.

A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office even shows that, as of last count, students lost approximately 43% of their credits when transferring to a new school. This, of course, means that college costs climb even higher for transfer students who have to take similar courses multiple times, and there’s the investment of time to consider as well.

Lack of Guidance for Students

A 2018 report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement included a survey of 90,000 transfer-aspiring community college students, which showed that half of them never utilized any transfer-advising services that their school had to offer.

Considering that many students may not have a parent or guardian to whom they can turn for advice or help, countless students in two-year schools will likely have a much harder time determining which of their credits might transfer, to which schools they can transfer, and how to initiate the credit transfer process by themselves.

How can I find out if a college accepts transfer credits?

Unfortunately, there is no set standard that determines which college credits will transfer or when. To find out whether your transfer credits will count toward a degree program at another school, you may need to speak with a college counselor. Some colleges and universities also offer online tools that let you check whether transfer credits will apply.

Can transfer students get scholarships?

Transfer students can apply for many of the same scholarships and aid opportunities as other students. Our guide on how to find scholarships can help you find out where to look.

What is the College Transparency Act?

The College Transparency Act is a proposed law that would establish a postsecondary student data system. Among other things, this data system could help collect information that could be used to streamline the transfer credit process among colleges and universities.

The Bottom Line

Community college students who want to earn a four-year degree may have significant hurdles to overcome, but that doesn’t mean a bachelor’s degree is out of reach. Generally speaking, it can be helpful for students to have a solid understanding of how the transfer process might work before they invest in a college education. For example, some community colleges have agreements with other schools that make it easy for two-year students to transition to four-year colleges and universities with full credit once they’re ready.

That said, being left to figure out which of your credits transfer after the fact is a real problem, and the statistics show it. If you are struggling to find out whether your transfer credits will count at a new school, do your research to determine what restrictions may be in place and if your community college has any transfer-advising services.


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