January 2020


There are several reasons some high school students go to community college before transferring to a four-year institution. Maybe they need to be better prepared academically or maybe they need to be closer to home. For students who know they want to earn a bachelor’s degree but will start off at a community college, navigating that path between two institutions can be tricky.

The earlier students can determine their plan, the better, said Kerri Carlson Anderson, director of transfer admissions at St. Catherine University and a former transfer student. “We’d love to see high school students reach out to both the community college and the private college if they know they want a four-year degree,” Carlson Anderson said. “We can work with the community college and the student to create a plan to help them transfer in and achieve their goals at St. Kate’s.”

It’s important for students to take the right courses that they’ll need not only for the community college but for their four-year major as well. And it’s important to figure this out early so the student doesn’t take unneeded courses.

“When talking to families and students we want to be sure the courses they are taking at a community college are not only fitting their current needs but also their future goals,” Carlson Anderson said. “We hate to see students who’ve taken great courses, but they don’t line up with what they need for their intended major.”

Erik Halvorson, academic advisor at Century College, agreed; the earlier students plan for the future, the better. “One of the first questions we ask students is ‘what are your long-term goals’, he said. “Knowing where they want to transfer to as early as possible is key to making sure the student is taking the appropriate classes.”

“It’s important to take into account time constraints and financial constraints when deciding what a student’s goals look like,” Halvorson said. “Maybe that’s staying at the community college for one year, maybe that’s completing an associate degree or finishing the Minnesota transfer curriculum. It’s different for each student.”

For students aiming to earn a bachelor’s degree, there are credit limits to state and federal grants, whether students attend the same institution or if they are starting at a community college and then transferring. So, determining a student’s goals and selecting courses that fit those goals not only impacts the length of a student’s education but also potentially the cost of that education. This is why figuring out that four-year plan early is so important.

Transfer students welcomed

Students who transfer in make up a sizable share of undergraduates at many Minnesota private colleges. The average share of new students earning bachelor’s degrees who transferred in is 22 percent. And while some of the students are transferring from other institutions that award bachelor’s degrees, a large share of transfer students are coming from community colleges. In fact, 42 percent of transfer students come from Minnesota State community and technical colleges alone. (The Council’s July 2019 Transfer Origins Report has more on this topic.)

Whether students start out at a community college knowing they want to finish up at a private college, or if that plan emerges later on, private colleges are eager to work with potential transfer students. The Minnesota Private College Council shares some general information for transfer students, along with a Transfer Guide resource. A new effort to encourage community college students to consider visiting private colleges has been started, with visit events held on some holidays when community colleges are closed, including Presidents Day on Feb. 17.

Several private colleges have plans in place to ensure students can finish an associate and then a bachelor’s degree as quickly as possible. St. Kate’s Complete, for example, provides students guidance and support on how to navigate both the community college and St. Kate’s — as well as offering financial aid to students.

“In the St. Kate’s Complete plan we have partnerships with four community colleges and if students complete either the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum or an associate degree with a GPA of 2.5 they will have met our liberal arts core requirements and receive a scholarship,” Carlson Anderson said. “The plan is really designed to connect with the student early on the journey so they get the advising and support to achieve their goals.”

By Tom Lancaster