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LA Times: To make ‘free college’ work, smooth out the path from community college to a bachelor’s degree

This important piece from The Aspen Institute’s Josh Wyner and HCM Strategists’ Lara Couturier makes the case that the failure to ensure smooth transfer widens the opportunity and wealth gaps that plague our nation. Barriers to transfer need to be removed at two-year and four-year institutions, both in policy and practice.

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that will make California the 13th state to provide its residents tuition-free community college. The promise of lower-cost education is great news — for half of U.S. students, the road to a bachelor’s degree winds, at some point, through community college. But an offer of free college will truly transform lives only if colleges and universities take steps to smooth the path from community college to a bachelor’s degree.

For some students — especially those in middle-skills fields like dental hygiene and construction supervision — the credential they can attain in two years at community college will allow them to launch a healthy career, with wages that can support a family. But 4 in 5 students who start community college say they want to eventually transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree. It’s a worthy goal, given that, on average, workers holding a bachelor’s degree earn 40% more annually than those with an associate’s degree.

Yet those aspirations fall far short of reality. Six years after entering community college, only 14% of students earn a bachelor’s degree.