Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Studies: Students who want bachelor’s degrees do best when they start at four-year colleges

On June 20, 2012, Board of Governors (BOG) member Norman Tripp asked FAMU President James Ammons why he doesn't send more of the university's applicants to two-year colleges rather than admitting them as through the "profile assessment" process.

The guidelines for the profile assessment process are outlined in BOG Regulation 6.002, which states: "Applicants who are not eligible for standard admissions may be considered for alternative admission. In addition to reviewing a student’s GPA and test scores, a university may consider other factors in the review of the student’s application for admission."

FAMU currently has the highest number of "profile admits" in the State University System of Florida.

"Why aren’t you directing [profile admits] to what was a community college or state college to get prepared to come to FAMU?" Tripp asked Ammons. "It’s cheaper. The purpose of the 2 + 2 system was to take those students who are obviously not prepared to do your work and to get them prepared."

Ammons answered by emphasizing that the "four-year college experience" FAMU offers is important to the success of the students the university serves as part of its historical mission. A 2007 study published in the Teachers College Record of Columbia University backs up Ammons' position.

Sara Goldrick-Rab (University of Wisconsin), Deborah Faye Carter (University of Michigan), and Rachelle Winkle Wagner (University of Nebraska) are the authors of the article "What Higher Education Has to Say about the Transition to College."

Their article summarizes recent research findings that expose how many of the common beliefs about community colleges are outdated: "Research clearly demonstrates that the traditional transfer function of the community college, to provide a bridge from the two- to four-year school, has declined, despite evidence that community college students are more likely than ever to aspire to a bachelor's degree. Compared to the late 1960s, when the majority of community college students transferred to four-year institutions, in recent years the percentage of students who transfer has been declining, with estimates varying from about 20-40 percent ever transferring."

Goldrick-Rab, Carter, and Wagner go on to state that: "Overall, community college students earn fewer bachelor’s degrees, persist for fewer years, and end up in less lucrative jobs than do comparable students who begin their education at four-year institutions."

They also mention that some scholars have concluded that this is happening because the community college "diverts ambitious lower-class students away from four-year schools, 'cooling out' their ambitions and channeling them into lower-status vocational occupations."

Walter M. Kimbrough, the new president of Dillard University, recently pointed to research that shows African Americans are more likely to complete baccalaureates when they begin at four-year institutions.

"Attacking HBCUs as low-performing is idiotic given that regardless of race, low-income students graduate at lower levels than high-income students," Kimbrough wrote in USA Today. "[Wall Street Journal writer Jason Riley] suggests turning HBCUs into community colleges. Yet research by Vincent Tinto at Syracuse University shows that blacks are four times more likely to get a bachelor's degree if they start at a four-year, rather than two-year, school."

The four-year experience offered by schools like FAMU is the best option for students who want bachelor's degrees. FAMU has made great progress in helping its students increase their course loads so they can make faster progress in completing their required classes. The university will make even more progress as it continues its efforts to make college more affordable by expanding on-campus housing, academic advisement staffing, and supervised study halls.  

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