The College’s welcoming of its first class of transfer students from community colleges this year follows a series of administrative changes made over the past several years and is a step towards efforts to incorporate more students on nontraditional paths into the student body.
At a meeting last spring, the faculty voted to shift the College’s credit policy to allow credits from courses at community colleges—rather than just four-year colleges—to count towards a Bowdoin degree. However, other areas of the College have been long considering the changes necessary to welcome community college transfer students to campus.
An advisory group including representatives from the Office of Admissions, the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of the Registrar, among others, began meeting several years ago to embark on an effort to incorporate veterans into the College community, according to Dean of Student Affairs Janet Lohmann. This advisory group later adapted to discuss and develop policies around transfer students from community colleges as well but was unable to make any official strides until the credit policy changed.
The gradual push to accept transfer credits from community colleges has been largely rooted in the College’s concerns about equity, according to Registrar Martina Duncan ’97.
“We wanted to make sure when a student wants or needs to take a course in the summer or ask[s] to take courses on some sort of leave, that they can access them, physically access them, because a lot of students don’t have a four-year institution near them,” Duncan said. “And then also cost-wise, it seemed like a much better option for a lot of students.”
According to Duncan, this concern was heightened during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, when a significant number of current students departed from the traditional four-year college path and sought more flexibility in credit options.
“When Covid hit and we had students taking leaves and needing to make up credits … it became even more pressing to get a policy in place,” Duncan said. “And so when the transfer credit policy was amended to include community college credit, it just made a lot of sense at that point in time.”
As soon as this change to credit policy was made, the Office of Admissions began working to recruit students from community colleges. The first step was initiating a partnership with an arm of the American Talent Initiative (ATI) called the Transfer Scholars Network, which pairs high-achieving students from eight community colleges across the country with a group of twelve elite, four-year colleges, including Amherst College, Williams College and Yale University.
Despite this partnership, none of this year’s class of five community college transfer students were paired with Bowdoin through this program, according to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Claudia Marroquin ’06. For Marroquin, the fact that the pairings came from outside the Transfer Scholars Network reflects the potential for forming relationships with even more community colleges nationwide.
“We’re excited that the students who ended up with us did not come from any of those ATI schools,” Marroquin said. “Simply that just means that there’s opportunity for us and surely we’ll be continuing some of the outreach to those community college advisors to see if there’s more students like the wonderful ones that we ended up with.”
In the short term, Marroquin said admissions is working towards building relationships with community colleges in Maine, especially Southern Maine Community College. Admissions representatives plan to attend a community college transfer fair in Maine to further connect with local students hoping to pursue a four-year path.
“We’re focusing on Maine because we are a Maine school,” Marroquin said. “We want to make sure that we’re looking at the talent within the state, and we’ll see how that then progresses to other community college fairs that might happen in other major cities, where there’s either a desire to have students from that region or community colleges that might have honors colleges or students who are more inclined towards a liberal arts education for the remainder of their experience.”
Once these students arrive at Bowdoin, the greatest change required of the College is to adapt in order to be able to accommodate a larger cohort of transfer students. In the past, there have typically only been one or two transfer students with each entering class. This year, there are eight, including five from community colleges.
One such adaptation is a change in the way that transfer students register for courses, according to Duncan. Previously, students met with their faculty advisors and a representative from the Office of the Registrar on the Sunday before the start of classes to evaluate prerequisites and submit their registration. This year, transfer students were asked to complete a survey about their academic backgrounds and interests prior to registration in order to streamline the process. In addition, the Registrar’s Office partnered with the library and with the Baldwin Center for Teaching and Learning (BCLT) to immediately introduce these students to campus resources as soon as they arrived on campus.
While the new policy requires some adaptation on the part of many areas of the College, Marroquin emphasized the value of welcoming students with less traditional backgrounds into the College community.
“I think that every student—whether it’s a community college transfer or one of our first-year admits— has a unique story, and there’s value in the pathways that students have chosen,” Marroquin said. “Even within our first year class, there are students who have taken a gap year or some other opportunity, so I really encourage students to not just put a label of ‘community college student’ [on the new transfer students. There are some fascinating folks here.”