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Rising Up through Stronger and More Equitable Transfer

Transfer can help our communities compete together for a brighter future

When half of a team doesn’t have the equipment to compete, the whole team cannot win. The same is true for connecting talent to opportunity in this country. We need as many people as possible equipped to be at their best so we can compete together for a stronger future against the challenges of our time.

We know that bachelor’s degrees are what our nation’s team needs to compete—56% (and rising) of good jobs require one. Yet only 28% of Black adults and 21% of Hispanic adults in the United States hold a bachelor’s degree, compared to 42% of their white peers. Similarly, only 15% of young adults from the lowest income backgrounds have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 59% of their wealthier counterparts.

What would it mean if we could erase these disparities?

  • 9 million more Black and 7.7 million more Hispanic adults with bachelor’s degrees can compete for the 36.3 million good jobs that require them.
  • 6 million more lower-income young adults on a path to economic mobility.
  • Over 17 million more people on our team, equipped with the education they need to make the country the best it can be.

Despite increases in overall bachelor’s attainment, the nation has made too little progress in closing gaps for students from Black, Hispanic, and lower-income communities. One reason why: We have yet to achieve stronger and more equitable transfer outcomes.

Community colleges enroll many Black, Hispanic, and lower-income students who aspire to transfer and earn at least a bachelor’s degree. But far too few do. Only 11 percent of low-income community college students transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree, and despite research documenting a “racial transfer gap’” we don’t know what the national and state-by-state outcomes are for transfer students of color. That’s part of the problem. How can higher education leaders set goals and act strategically when they are missing crucial information?

We do know that unacceptably low transfer outcomes have remained stagnant for decades. We believe that is because, for too long and on far too many campuses, transfer has been relegated to a back-end process that deals with credit applicability rather than students’ success, or as an enrollment strategy to fill empty seats rather than a talent development pipeline for underserved communities.

We aim to change this. Transfer belongs on the desks of presidents, state leaders, and federal policymakers.   

Over the next two years, and with the support of the Belk Center, ECMC Foundation, College Futures Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and Community College Research Center will deliver actionable and disaggregated data, public accountability, and evidence-based strategies that can pave the way for stronger and more equitable transfer outcomes across institutions, states, and the nation.


We will work with the National Student Clearinghouse’s data to produce an updated Tracking Transfer report that will ensure national, and state leaders will know what their transfer outcomes are for all students—and, importantly, the Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and low-income students that are most likely to be shut out of a bachelor’s degree.

Based on what we learn from the community college and university transfer partnerships delivering the strongest outcomes for students of color, we will produce an updated Transfer Playbook in 2024 that gives every college and university in the nation a roadmap to delivering better transfer outcomes and remedying longstanding inequities in transfer.

We will work with state and institutional leaders in North Carolina and California and national organizations to help policymakers and college presidents nationwide devote the attention and resources needed to realize the full promise of community college transfer as an engine of opportunity and equity.

This is a big project with lofty goals. But these goals are within reach if higher education leaders across the nation put our data and research into action. We have seen the power of transfer to transform student lives, institutions, and communities. Join us as we learn how to spread the power equitably. And if you have a program, practice, or initiative that is helping achieve stronger and more equitable outcomes for transfer students, we want to hear about it! Complete this form, and you may be featured in the Transfer Playbook!

John Fink is a senior research associate, and program lead at the Community College Research Center. Tania LaViolet is the director of bachelor’s attainment at the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program.

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