These Scholarships Help Community College Transfers Attend Top Universities

These Scholarships Help Community College Transfers Attend Top Universities

September 29, 2021

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Raised in poverty by a single mom, Corey Lamb never thought he'd go to college. In high school, he got in with the wrong crowd, turned to drugs and alcohol, and dropped out.

Years later, in his mid-thirties, Lamb was a single father supporting his young daughter, Kasandra. He survived by working odd jobs and collecting welfare. During times of unemployment, he faced the specter of homelessness.

To improve his job prospects, Lamb earned his GED and enrolled at Fullerton College, a community college in California. As good grades piled up, so did scholarship funding.

"That's what drove me," Lamb told BestColleges. "I saw it could pull me and my daughter out of deep poverty."

Today, thanks to a life-changing scholarship opportunity, the 41-year-old Lamb is a senior at Stanford University.

Transfers to Selective Colleges Small in Number But Successful

Transfer students account for a sizable portion of the student population on U.S. campuses. In 2016, 30% of college students were transfers. That group was divided evenly between students transferring from two-year and four-year colleges.

At the nation's 100 most selective colleges, 14% are transfers, but only 5% come from community colleges, notes a report from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation titled "Persistence: The Success of Students Who Transfer from Community Colleges to Selective Four-Year Institutions."

At the most competitive private institutions, the report details, 0.9% of students are community college transfers. At highly competitive private schools, the next rung down, that figure is 0.7%. And at very competitive private schools, it's 3.9%.

But here's some good news. Community college students who transfer to the most competitive colleges boast a higher graduation rate (76%) than their non-transfer counterparts (75.5%), suggesting that those who are accepted are likely to succeed.

The Transfer Scholars Network Connects Talent With Opportunity

A number of initiatives exist to connect talented community college students with four-year colleges and to provide scholarship funding to help them make that transition.

One is a pilot initiative run by the Aspen Institute, the Transfer Scholars Network (TSN), which promises to bring together students at nine community colleges nationwide with admissions representatives from 12 private institutions: Amherst, Bowdoin, Cornell, MIT, Mount Holyoke, Pomona, Princeton, Smith, Spelman, Swarthmore, Williams, and Yale.

Students nominated by their community college will receive individual attention from these admissions offices, helping them navigate the application and financial aid process.

“We don't want there to be a ceiling for community college transfers.” — Tania LaViolet

Tania LaViolet, director of the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program, told BestColleges the goal is to "pave a clear path" for low-income students with good grades.

"We don't want there to be a ceiling for community college transfers," LaViolet said. "We want opportunity to be unbounded so their talent can take them as far as possible."

Mount Holyoke, one of the dozen colleges participating in the network, has a long history of welcoming community college transfers. About 90 students per year are enrolled in the college's Frances Perkins Program, established in 1980 for nontraditional transfers with some college credits. Perkins students receive generous financial support and can tailor a program to meet their academic and lifestyle needs.

The college's director of enrollment marketing and communications, Nichole Reynolds, transferred into the Frances Perkins Program from nearby Holyoke Community College, one of the nine TSN institutions.

"We're a school that's very driven in our selection process by fit," Reynolds told BestColleges. "The real benefit of the TSN is that we'll have students coming to us who've thought carefully about whether Mount Holyoke is the right fit for them."

The Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship

Seed funding from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation helped launch the Transfer Scholar Network. The foundation has a strong commitment to supporting community college transfers, most notably through its Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship program.

The Transfer Scholarship award provides up to $55,000 per year to attend a four-year college for two or three years. Applicants must carry at least a 3.5 GPA and fall below an income threshold of $95,000.

According to figures shared by the foundation, more than 1,000 students have received awards since 2002. The most recent class of 72 scholars has a median income of $25,243 and is roughly 64% female, 21% Asian or Asian American, 19% Black, 24% multiracial, and 24% white. They're attending Amherst, Georgetown, Stanford, and Williams, along with six Ivy League schools and other top colleges. Typically, 60-70% of awardees will choose selective private institutions.

Competition for the scholarship is intense, with an award rate of only 2%.

That's not all. The foundation's executive director, Giuseppe Basili, told BestColleges the scholarship offers as much as $150,000 for graduate school. Last year, 100 students took advantage of that opportunity. The scholarship also provides stipends for unpaid internships, covers costs for study abroad, and pays for a member of a student's family to visit campus during their first year.

"We are trying to replicate all of the social capital advantages that higher-wealth students have for students who may not have the same economic means," Basili said.

“There are really bright people in community colleges all across the country who simply didn't have the traditional path ... but yet could perform just as well if given the opportunity.” — Giuseppe Basili

The program recognizes that talent exists everywhere, Basili noted, and at all levels.

"There are really bright people in community colleges all across the country who simply didn't have the traditional path, who hadn't necessarily had all the advantages in high school, but yet could perform just as well if given the opportunity," he said.

Corey Lamb was one of them. Winning the Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, he said, meant everything.

"It was a huge confidence booster," Lamb said, "and very validating. But most of all, it meant not having constant anxiety about paying the rent."

For Alan Brantley, the scholarship helped him complete a journey from high school dropout to incarcerated felon to Fullerton College student to Stanford graduate.

"The scholarship was recognition for all my hard work," Brantley told BestColleges. "For the first time in my life, I had set a goal and achieved it."

Feature Image: Philip Pacheco / Stringer / Getty Images News

Community college transfers are rare on elite campuses, but they typically succeed once enrolled Save time and money by planning ahead for your college transfer. Learn more with our College Transfer Guide. Many community college students plan to transfer to a four-year college, but few succeed. Closing the transfer gap is critical to closing opportunity gaps.