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Belk Center Study Finds Inequitable Outcomes Among Community College Transfer Students

Two adult learners work side-by-side in a classroom

North Carolina’s revised Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA), designed to help ease transfer pathways between community colleges and University of North Carolina System institutions, appears to be producing different outcomes for students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, according to a study published by the NC State College of Education’s Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research.

The authors of “The Differential Impacts of North Carolina’s Comprehensive Articulation Agreement on the Outcomes of Black, Latin*, and White NCCCS-to-UNC-System Transfer Students” examined data from students who transferred from the North Carolina Community College System to a UNC System institution from 2010 to 2019 and found patterns of inequality.

“We hope that this report shines a light on how different groups of students from North Carolina’s community colleges move toward obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, we want to contribute to widening the doors for all students to earn the credentials they aspire to,” said Holley Nichols, a senior research and policy analyst at the Belk Center and a doctoral student in the College of Education. “This report brings inequities in college outcomes to light and offers manageable suggestions for addressing them.” 

The study finds that while the revised CAA is intended to assist all students with the transfer process, it increased the time it took to earn a baccalaureate degree for all students. However, the impact was more significant for Black and Latin* students, who took approximately one semester longer to graduate than their white peers. 

Additionally, while the revised CAA was able to decrease excess credit accumulation among white students, who earned 27% fewer excess credits, Black and Latin* students did not experience the same effects. 

“I think what [authors] Melissa Whatley, Rachel Worsham and Jonathan Loss ably demonstrate is that looking at overall averages of student success glosses over the real inequities that exist among marginalized racial groups,” Nichols said. “There is an opportunity for policy makers to more carefully consider these systemic differences when they design, track and assess education policy. Strong education policies should be lifting students up equitably and, to do so, our measurements need to include a level of nuance to focus our attention on students who need it most.” 

Takeaways from “The Differential Impacts of North Carolina’s Comprehensive Articulation Agreement on the Outcomes of Black, Latin*, and White NCCCS-to-UNC-System Transfer Students” 

  • Consideration for race and ethnicity should be incorporated when crafting policy: “Not all racial/ethnic groups have the same needs when it comes to transfer success. Future revisions to the CAA should consider the provision of additional resources intended to support different groups of students, such as funding for additional advising for students representing historically marginalized racial/ethnic groups.”
  • Accountability measures should speak specifically to the success of students from historically marginalized groups: “Existing state policies around performance funding often contain metrics and indicators that speak to the success of students in certain historically minoritized groups, which may serve as examples for other state policies. For example, in Tennessee and Ohio, performance-based funding is awarded, in part, based on the graduation rates of students of color.”
  • Engage students about their transfer experience to build a deeper understanding of the challenges they face: “By understanding the unique circumstances that different racial/ethnic groups of students face, policymakers and practitioners can leverage culturally relevant strategies and metrics to promote their success. While the CAA is one of many policies governing transfer in the state, its large reach across both systems and multiple degree pathways suggests that it can serve as an important lever to promoting equity.”

Editor’s note: The authors of this report use the term Latin* to refer to individuals that may have been classified as Latinx, Latino, Latina, Latine or Hispanic. The term is intended to be respectful of the various linguistic groups that comprise this racial/ethnic identification and is sensitive to a variety of gender identities.