2+2 with American community colleges

by jguiver on 16/02/2012

For a couple of years now, those of us who have the USA as a target market and who regularly recruit there have been exploring the idea of 2+2 progression agreements with American community colleges.   Such agreements have the potential to be another avenue for student recruitment, and at first glance it makes good sense.  Community colleges in America enroll seven million students on credit bearing programmes, and it is estimated that over 50% of those intend to transfer.  (from ‘Improving Student Transfer from Community Colleges to Four-Year Institutions’ by CollegeBoard)

Most community colleges in the USA have transfer agreements with local and national universities so that a student who has successfully completed two years at a community college can transfer into the third year at a university (of a four-year degree programme).  It would seem natural, therefore, for a UK university to pursue a similar agreement with American community colleges: a student successfully completes the two-year degree programme at the community college and then transfers onto Level 2 (year 2) of a UK three-year Bachelor degree programme.  So why aren’t more UK universities entering into these 2+2 progression agreements?

I know of one UK university that has such an agreement in place with a community college in California; there may be others that I am unaware of.  In three years, there have been only a handful of students from the college in California who have made the leap to finish their degree at the university in the UK.  From discussions I’ve had with the people who set-up the progression agreement, it was hard work and took nearly two years of emailing, negotiating, mapping, and multiple visits.  Was it worth it?  It may be too soon to tell, but the fact that agreements with other colleges haven’t been popping up says something.

I’ve tried to go down that road for my University with a couple of American community colleges, and one major roadblock is the lack of interest I encountered from most colleges.  Out of ten community colleges I approached, only one seemed very keen and willing to put in the time and effort to develop an agreement.  Although, the growing interest in internationalization is also reaching community colleges, so an interest in 2+2 with UK institutions may grow.

I think, too, there is a lack of interest coming from UK universities to pursue this type of agreement.  Whether it’s because it is too much hard work or they don’t know where to start or they think the ROI won’t be sufficient, I can’t say, but I know of only a few UK institutions which have tried or are actively trying to develop 2+2 progression with American community colleges.

Another barrier to this being a viable and productive student recruitment route is the community college students themselves.  While there are American students who use community colleges as a pathway to a Bachelor’s degree, many community college students are there to complete a certification or get a vocational qualification and will not pursue a further degree; they’ll stop after the two-year programme is completed.  Of those who intend to go on to earn a Bachelor’s degree, most will have already set their sights on a particular US university and will be working towards that goal and not be swayed by the possibility of studying in the UK.

The idea of 2+2 progression from American community college to UK university has been around for awhile, but hasn’t yet fulfilled its potential.  If you’ve been involved developing one of these, I’d be really interested to get your thoughts.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew Fisher February 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm

I’d have thought that American students with the financial and social resources to study in the UK are unlikely to wind up in the Community College sector to begin with – just as British students interested in and able to study abroad are unlikely to be in HE-in-FE contexts.

If that is true it isn’t surprising that these links don’t really work for the UK institutions which, as you say, tend to look for an ROI from internationalisation projects. There could be a benefit for the Colleges in a 2+1 deal that gets their students the final degree quicker (and therefore, possibly, no more expensively), but if the deal is 2+2 then local US institutions do seem like better value.
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jguiver February 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm

You’ve hit the nail on the head, Andrew.
In general, community college students don’t typically come from the socioeconomic background we’d expect to see in students who would consider study in the UK.

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