When Kyler Turner and her twin sister Kiara Turner walk across the stage at UD Arena today, they’ll be joining a small club of students who complete their bachelor’s degree after transferring from a community college to a four-year school.
Around 42 percent of students who leave a community college for a university actually obtain a four-year degree within six years of transferring, according to a September 2017 study by the National Student Clearing House Research Center. Thirteen percent of students who started at a community college in 2010 went on to earn a four-year degree, according to the report.
With the number of high school graduates expected to decline substantially in the coming years, universities are increasingly targeting community colleges as a source for students. Students like the Turner twins are the ideal recruits.
The twins started at the University of Cincinnati but missed their hometown of Englewood. After a year at U.C. they moved home and started attending Sinclair Community College. The sisters knew they both wanted to be teachers and after a year at Sinclair they transferred to UD to complete their degrees in early childhood education.
“We both knew we wanted to do education but we didn’t exactly know where we wanted to go,” said Kyler Turner .
Part of the reason Kyler Turner and Kiara Turner attended Sinclair was to save money, a practice long used by students who want to get introductory college classwork completed while paying lower community college tuition. It is a path state leaders, including Gov. John Kasich, have in recent years encouraged more students to take.
The same strategy worked out well for Cindi Westwood who pursued her college degrees over the course of 12 years. Westwood started at Sinclair and then transferred to Wright State University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2002. Westwood then finished what amounted to a tour of Dayton colleges by obtaining a law degree from UD.
Now, she works as an attorney at the law firm Rogers & Greenberg in Dayton.
“I obviously feel good about it,” Westwood joked. “I’m not sure why people don’t always finish their bachelor’s degree. I am kind of surprised that so few do because college is a huge time and financial commitment.”
‘Many routes’ to a degree
The transfer process was mostly smooth for Westwood and the Turner twins and their experience is something area universities are desperate to replicate.
Most universities have stepped up their focus on transfer agreements in recent years, said Susan Schaurer, assistant vice president of enrollment at Miami University.
“We’re really trying to be cognizant that the path to a bachelors degree has many routes for students,” Schaurer said. “We have all made very pointed efforts to strengthen our relationships with Ohio’s community colleges.”
Sinclair and Wright State have a program called “Double Degree” which allows students to be enrolled at both schools at once. The program provides students with academic advisers and resources from both institutions, so they know what credits will transfer.
Sinclair is the biggest feeder school for Wright State, with 698 students having transferred from the community college to WSU during the 2016-2017 school year, according to an annual report from the Ohio Department of Higher Education.
More recently, Sinclair and UD established a similar program called the “UD-Sinclair Academy,” which aims to provide career pathways for students between the two schools and makes a UD degree more affordable.
“They’re very important to us so we can only hope that these students have a wonderful experience transitioning,” said Julia Thompson, UD associate director of admission and financial aid.
Sinclair charges one of the lowest tuition rates in the state while private colleges like UD tend to charge more. UD charges $21,450 per semester to full-time students taking 12 to 18 credit hours, according to the school’s website. Sinclair tuition is just over $116 per credit hour for Montgomery County students; for 18 credit hours Sinclair students pay $2,088 a semester.
Sinclair students who join the UD-Sinclair Academy get their tuition price locked in as soon as they declare their intent to transfer to UD. Kyler and Kiara Turner transferred from Sinclair to UD just as the academy was getting started but said the cheaper cost of Sinclair classes was a big help.
“Our (UD) dean even recommended: ‘don’t take summer classes here, go to Sinclair and transfer because it’s cheaper and it will transfer,’” said Kiara Turner.
Getting students ‘plugged in’
As universities try to attract more community college students, they’re building better student-support systems on four-year campuses.
That support comes in multiple forms at area universities, including scholarships designated especially for transfer students and added guidance on choosing and taking classes, administrators said. Most universities are trying to “streamline” support for transfer students, Schaurer said.
Wittenberg University attempts to integrate transfer students as quickly as possible, said Jon Duraj, Wittenberg associate dean for student success and retention. Getting students “tailored” support from their academic department through advising and other means goes a long way, he said.
“When you’re talking about the success of all students, it’s helping them get plugged in to those mentors, to those resources that are going to be there to push them,” Duraj said. “The quicker we can help that student feel connected and exposed to the resources, the more likely they’re going to take advantage.”
By the numbers
Students who transferred from an area community college to a public Ohio university main campus during the 2016-2017 academic year.
316: Cincinnati State
199: Clark State
95: Edison State
Source: Ohio Department of Higher Education.
Support and encouragement was a big factor for Westwood’s 12-year college journey. She raised two children and worked multiple jobs through school including waiting tables at night and delivering phone books by day. Westwood said she was given advice that helped: don’t get “discouraged about looking toward the future and how long it may take to finish.”
Kyler Turner and Kiara Turner said they just barely made it to graduation on time because of their transfers. But, with support from each school and some of their own determination, they’ll be out of school in four years and hunting for jobs with their fellow grads this summer.
“We’re not the type to go with the flow,” said Kyler Turner. “We’re the type that’s going to be in your office every day figuring out what we need to do.”