Low-Income Community-College Students Find Success at Selective 4-Year Colleges

September 16, 2010

Low-income community-college students not only tend to excel academically but also often become student leaders after they transfer to a four-year college, according to a new report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

Those same students won over skeptical professors with their intellectual curiosity and appetite for extra work, the group said.

Those are some of the lessons learned three years after the foundation embarked on its Community College Transfer Initiative. The foundation is releasing a report today, titled "Partnerships That Promote Success: The Evaluation of the Community College Transfer Initiative," that highlights the various college programs and polices that contributed to student success. The report can be found at the foundation's Web site at

Emily Froimson, director of higher-education programs at the foundation, said the report shows that students from low-income families who transfer to a highly selective, four-year college perform as well as those students who came in as freshmen.

"These students could have easily blended in and not made any impact, but they did," Ms. Froimson said. "More of these students should be given an opportunity to attend those types of institutions."

The purpose of the foundation's transfer program is to promote sustainable ways to increase the number of high-achieving, community-college students from low-income families who transfer to the nation's selective four-year institutions.

To accomplish its goal the foundation has awarded grants totaling about $7-million to eight highly selective four-year institutions. They are Amherst College, Bucknell University, Cornell University, Mount Holyoke College, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Southern California.

These institutions agreed among themselves to enroll a total of 1,100 low-income community-college students. The report found that over a period of three years, they enrolled nearly 2,000 students instead, exceeding the goals of the foundation's program.

Six of the eight campuses are on track to continue their efforts of enrolling community-college students. Ms. Froimson said the two other institutions, which she would not identify, would continue their effort but in a more-limited fashion because of the recession.

The study also found that having institutions ready to undertake the effort and getting significant institutional buy-in and commitment were integral to success. In addition, when the values and mission of an institution aligned well with the project, it was easier to articulate goals and benchmarks, giving staff and faculty a way to understand and discuss the undertaking, the study found. For example, the program reflected the University of Michigan's mission and history of promoting opportunity and equity. And at the University of North Carolina, the program coincided with a drive to support all transfer students.