Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
It’s not uncommon for students to transfer to the University of Maryland from a community college. On average, a student can save more than half the cost of each credit by attending a community college instead of a state or private school by starting at a two-year school. It is, by all means, a logical decision — whether made for financial reasons or simply to complete general education requirements in smaller classes.
Transfer orientation is also the first time new transfer students are given an official review of what credits the university will accept. They’re forced to accept enrollment at this university on a gamble, holding out hope that all their credits are accepted. Although the university has many resources to help students understand their transfer credit process, the process to petition for credit acceptance if certain courses aren’t initially accepted is tedious work for students managing the transition to a new school.
Initiatives like the Maryland Transfer Advantage Program, in which students who already know they want to transition from a community college to this university work with an adviser to ensure their credits align with their four year plan, fail to address the largest problem for most transfers: their lack of upper level credits.
If a student enters the university from a community college with an associate degree — a full 60 credits — and having fulfilled most or all of their general education requirements, they’ll still find it difficult to complete a degree within two years as expected. Most major programs require either majority upper level credits — something that’s unattainable at community colleges where only 100- and 200-level credits are offered. English, for example, is one of the few majors that requires only 30 upper level credits and is therefore one of the more desirable majors for transfer students. The added time it takes to complete many majors leads to a larger problem for many students: financial ability.
The university offers a handful of scholarships specifically for transfers. The largest and most prestigious of these is the Frederick Douglass Scholarship, which offers its main recipients full tuition coverage of up to $8,650 a year for two years. This is a substantial award, but it still requires transfer students to rely on other funding sources to cover the cost of fees, housing and books. And, of course, the scholarship can’t be applied for more than four semesters or divided over a prolonged five or six semesters.
Collegiate financial aid can be tricky and difficult to navigate. Many students don’t fit neatly into the mold of “independent” or “dependent” for financial means. Some students’ parents have money and list their children as dependents but refuse to pay for their college. Family debt, too, has no place on the FAFSA form. These stipulations can leave students in more complicated home situations to rely more heavily on scholarships and grants, and they can potentially not receive enough from them. In order to better support transfer students with associate degrees, perhaps scholarships for transfers should align more closely with the realistic timeline of degree completion after transfer on a case-by-case basis, allowing for funds to disperse over a longer span of time.
English, and other low-credit majors, entice transfer students because of their compatibility with the two-year timeline of the community college transition. It’s also particularly beneficial pathway for those seeking to complete their degree within two years with the specific goal of meeting the guidelines of their scholarships. But, by not offering more flexible financial aid — effectively pigeonholing students into choosing their academic paths by speed of completion — the University of Maryland is failing its transfer students.
Lexie Werner is a senior English major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.