Researcher Suggests Ways to Aid Community College Transition

October 13, 2022  |  by Heidi Wells, Global Campus

Photo of Brett Ranon Nachman
Brett Ranon Nachman

What do community college students need to make a successful transition to four-year institutions?

That's a question a new University of Arkansas professor previously researched, and he suggests much can be done to make it easier for graduates of community colleges to move on to universities to complete bachelor's degrees.

Getting general information early to community college students, showing them a clear path through application and enrollment processes and making them aware of official partnerships with universities can all help with the transition, explains Brett Ranon Nachman, assistant professor of adult and lifelong learning.

Nachman began teaching online this fall in the community college leadership master's degree program at the U of A. The program is one of 75 online degrees, certificates, microcertificates and licensure programs supported by the Global Campus at the U of A. These programs are showcased on the U of A ONLINE website at


Personal Experience Leads to Questions

Nachman's research agenda stems from personal experience. He began his own college career by earning an associate's degree from Scottsdale Community College. From there, he went on to complete a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University. Next were master's and doctoral degrees in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis Program. He was a postdoctoral research scholar at North Carolina State University's Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research before joining the U of A faculty in the College of Education and Health Professions.

"(Community college students often) are not familiar with four-year institutions and the sort of nimbleness you need to navigate them. It puts the onus on students to ascertain information."

Brett Ranon Nachman, Assistant professor of adult and lifelong learning

"When I was getting my associate's degree, I was entrenched in student leadership and gained a sense of how academia works," Nachman says. "My associate's and bachelor's degrees are in journalism and mass communication so I covered stories; I loved talking to faculty members and the notion of human storytelling, relating folks' stories."

As his education progressed, he realized he wanted to use aspects of the field of journalism and mass communication. He became interested in understanding the issues that face postsecondary education institutions.

"I wanted to channel the human elements of journalism into a new phase of research into community colleges," he said.

However, Nachman wanted to get involved in a practical way, too, not just researching and writing about the topic. At Arizona State, he started a registered student organization for students who had transferred from community colleges. It focused on building connections and making people feel welcome, he says, but also on making pathways to four-year institutions accessible.

Community college students may find access to four-year universities challenging because they lack "information literacy," which boils down to not knowing what resources exist and how to access them.

"(Community college students often) are not familiar with four-year institutions and the sort of nimbleness you need to navigate them," he says. "It puts the onus on students to ascertain information."

Navigating all the processes to successfully apply and enroll also requires knowing what offices you need to contact and how they can help you.

"When aiming to transfer to a four-year university, there is such a variability in terms of knowing who to connect with, what resources to seek," he says. "Transfer advising is very important. Academic advising needs to focus on taking credits that will transfer. Unnecessary credits set you back in time and money and that can be a huge barrier."

At the University of Arkansas, the Global Campus employs six online student liaisons who help prospective students move through the application and enrollment processes for online degree programs by providing personalized assistance with application steps, academic connections and general questions. Services can include guided appointments to support application completion, virtual assistance utilizing planning tools including the Transfer Planning Guide, and assistance with obtaining transcripts from prior institutions. Additionally, the liaison team maintains detailed self-service guides including video tutorials, FAQ panels, and step-by-step guides.

The services the liaisons provide are available to all students enrolling in online undergraduate degree programs, not just those coming from community colleges.


Getting Information Early May Make a Difference

It's important that community college staff provide information early in the educational journey of students, Nachman says.

"The earlier you become familiar with four-year options, the more successful you will be at making the best call as far as financial ability, geographical location and field of study," he says. "Fortunately, at Scottsdale Community College I knew Arizona State University was a clear path for me but that's the exception rather than the rule."

Getting to know faculty members in community college programs who have connections at four-year universities can help students understand the transfer process better, too. It can be hard for students to interact with multiple offices and to find someone with a personal interest in their goals who can streamline the process.

"These are complex systems for anybody to navigate," Nachman says. "I'm a proponent of community colleges and four-year universities having clear and intentional partnerships, facilitating smoother pathways."

The U of A has what are called two-plus-two transfer agreements with several community colleges. Students can complete basic requirements at these community colleges before transferring to the flagship institution in Fayetteville to complete requirements for certain bachelor's degree programs. The U of A in Fayetteville also has transfer agreements with other universities and community colleges in the U of A system.

The U of A also offers an Arkansas Transfer Achievement Scholarship to graduates of seven U of A community colleges who meet eligibility requirements. It's one of several scholarships available to transfer students.

Photo of Heidi Wells

Heidi Wells

Content Strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master's in 2013 and a bachelor's in 1988.

Wells can be reached at or 479-575-7239.

Online Learner Blog Home


Master of Education in Community College Leadership

The demand for community college leaders is rising. You can prepare for these administrative roles through this unique online master’s degree program, the first in the region to focus on the development and enhancement of community college leaders.

Program Page


Related Articles