Every fall, an estimated 1.1 million American students begin their postsecondary education at community colleges. While most (80 percent) intend to earn their bachelor’s degree, less than a third transfer to a four-year institution and only 13 percent actually earn their bachelor’s degree in six years. Transfer practices between two- and four-year institutions are not adequately serving students. What’s more, scalable policies designed to repair these broken transfer pathways have historically focused on the public sector: For example, public universities enroll four times more transferring community college students (74 percent) than do private nonprofit colleges (19 percent). 

The Teagle Foundation and Ithaka S+R are collaborating to explore the promise and potential of Pathways to the Liberal Arts from community colleges to independent colleges, a relatively unexplored avenue for tackling transfer. We are especially interested in how a specific set of private institutions, namely liberal arts colleges and small independent colleges with liberal arts offerings, can strengthen their community college transfer-in practices at scale–whether through regional, state, or consortia-wide initiatives. The first outcome of our work together will take place October 28, in an informational webinar with open registration. Here Teagle will present its funding opportunity for leaders interested in collaboratively building liberal arts transfer pathways between community colleges and independent colleges, Ithaka S+R will speak to the scale, opportunity, and promising strategies used by independent colleges at the state or regional consortia level, and the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) will share its experience launching a comprehensive transfer agreement with the North Carolina Community College System. 

A liberal arts education provides students with a uniquely valuable educational experience. Pedagogies we think of as being traditionally liberal arts are frequently utilized by small independent colleges–facets such as intimate classroom environments with small class sizes, out-of-classroom discussions with faculty, experiential learning opportunities that expose students to global diversity–and prepare engaged students with a commitment to learning post-graduation. In terms of educational outcomes, employers have repeatedly voiced that in today’s labor market they value skills such as abstract problem solving, critical thinking, and effective communication–skills that are strongly emphasized in liberal arts programs–even more than the specialized skills gained by more vocational degree programs. These benefits should not be reserved for those who have been historically excluded from independent schools and their strong liberal arts traditions. This includes students of color, first generation learners, and students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds–student subgroups which are disproportionately enrolled in community colleges. 

Ithaka S+R will continue our work with Teagle in the space by producing a white paper on transfer pathways to the liberal arts at small independent colleges, to be published in January 2020. This research will describe the opportunities for improving this transfer pipeline, the challenges and constraints for successfully improving transfer pathways, and promising approaches to that end–including how individual institutions can draw on the power of collaboration to achieve impact at scale in their region.