As incoming classes shrink, community college transfers grow in importance

As the numbers of incoming freshmen have decreased in recent years, the number of students who transfer to Baldwin Wallace from other colleges are universities has come into increased focus.
As the traditional undergraduate population is declining in the area, targeting potential transfer students has become more important, said Janna Whitaker, associate director of admission for adult, transfer, and graduates.
“Overall the state of Ohio, our demographics are shrinking,” she said. “There are less high school students to recruit, so we’re always trying to find more markets, and one of those is community college.”
Despite its growing importance, demographic shifts, as well as economic changes, can impact transfer enrollment from community colleges.
Dan Karp, associate vice president of University Relations, said that the transfer enrollment numbers have been down recently, which may be due to factors beyond Baldwin Wallace’s control.
In particular, a strong economy may make it is less likely that students graduating with an associate’s degree from a community college decide to transfer to a school like BW, he said, because they enter the job market instead.
“In the past, or in recent years when the economy hasn’t been so good, those students looked at other options [beyond finding a job] including continuing their education towards a bachelor’s degree,” said Karp. “So that made our job a little bit easier because they were looking for what we have.”
Whitaker said that over the past four years, the trend in transfer admissions has shifted to more community college transfers, specifically “A to BW” students. The A to BW program is what Whitaker called “a true two-plus-two program” in which a student typically spends two years on their associate’s degree and two years at BW to earn a bachelor’s degree. Whitaker said there has been a dramatic increase in these A to BW students, rising from 18% of all BW transfers in 2014 to 46% in 2017.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said, “Hence our focus on trying to build more pathways and really work with community colleges.”
Whitaker said that working directly with community colleges is an important part of transfer recruitment. In addition to having tables and individual appointments at community colleges, she said BW has Transfer Articulation Agreements with those colleges to ensure that credits transfer here. These schools include Cuyahoga Community College, Lorain County Community College, and Lakeland Community College.
BW also does unofficial evaluation of credit for prospective transfers, something that Whitaker says is unique to BW.
“Students will come in and show us their unofficial transcripts before they even fill out an application,” said Whitaker. “They want to know how long it’s going to take and how much it’s going to cost. Not every college or university offers an unofficial transfer evaluation.”
Although BW has qualities that make it stand out, there are some challenges in recruiting transfer students, Whitaker said.
“It’s getting more competitive because other colleges are starting to create roads for [community college students] to follow as well,” said Whitaker. “And our biggest competitor is Cleveland State because of their price and location.”
Whitaker said that while BW’s cost can be a challenge in recruiting transfers, BW has financial aid specifically for transfers.
Admissions also tries to show potential students the value of BW, she said, by highlighting the benefits of a small-school education in terms of personal connection and mentoring, along with networking and educational opportunities that are founded in “a pulse on what’s happening in the world right now.”
“I think we [compete] by…showing them you’re making an investment in Baldwin Wallace and the payoff is there,” said Whitaker. “We’re developing new classes and new majors that will help that next generation of students,”