Prestigious public universities, including this one, pride themselves on being more down-to-earth and less elitist than their Ivy League counterparts. But not much of this translates into the admissions process. Many students from low-income families see the University as a far-away, inaccessible place. As LSA Assistant Dean Esrold Nurse told The Ann Arbor News “It’s not even a thought in their mind.”

Sarah Royce

Now an effort is under way to correct this unfortunate perception. Using a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the University will spend nearly $5 million to increase its enrollment of transfer students from community colleges. The foundation and the University are to be commended for working to increase enrollment of community college transfers, many of whom tend to be from low or moderate-income backgrounds. This program helps the University better serve the very purpose of a public university – making a quality higher education accessible to students of all backgrounds.

Too often, students from low or moderate-income backgrounds do not even apply to top schools like the University because they may not have the financial means to complete a four-year degree even if accepted. Going to a community college for one or two years is often a prudent financial choice for such students – they’re able to get requirements out of the way by paying as little as 10 percent of what they would pay for tuition at the University. For students who end up transferring to a four-year institution, universities must ensure that students’ credits do transfer seamlessly from community colleges.

Additionally, this grant money should be used to increase awareness of the University’s policies toward transfer students. Within four years, the University hopes to increase community college transfers to as many as 120 per year, six times the number admitted last fall. Clearly, to reach the comparatively astronomical number of 120, the University needs to make more efforts to reach out to potential transfer students.

The University made one such effort five years ago in conjunction with Washtenaw Community College through the M-TIES program; such partnerships need to be expanded. Visits from University officials would be especially helpful in sending the message that the University is open to community college transfers and requirements are realistic. Much like the proactive approach University President Mary Sue Coleman took to increase applications from black students by visiting black churches in Detroit, such efforts send the right message to students who might otherwise be discouraged by the expense and prestige of the University.

Students who have the grades to attend quality four-year institutions like this one yet choose to attend community college because of financial constraints must always have every opportunity to transfer to the University. The same goes for students who may not have had the grades coming out of high school but have worked hard to achieve them. If they are unable to transfer, students will find their academic development limited by not being able to access the world-class resources an institution like this one can offer. But the University loses out, too; the overall intellectual environment takes a hit if some students are barred because of their financial background. Increasing transfer rates of community college students is a positive goal for all involved.

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