In a report to the Board of Regents Thursday, university officials said more than 2,700 students transferred to the U, a population of students the U of M doesn't know a lot about. But this year the school hopes to study who they are and why they come to the U.
For many students, economics plays a role in the decision to start at a community college and then transfer to the University of Minnesota. Callistus Ditah, a biochemistry major at the U of M who hopes to attend medical school in a few years, came to the U.S. from Cameroon four years ago.
Ditah said he realized he didn't have enough money to start his college career at the U, where one year of tuition costs about $11,000 dollars.
"I didn't have money to afford coming down here to the U, and so I wanted school that was a lot more affordable and where I felt comfortable," he said.
Ditah took his first two years of general education classes at Normandale College in Bloomington. He liked the smaller classes, and the smaller tuition bill. It was about half what he would have paid at the U.
The cost of tuition was also one of the reasons Leticia Kumar took her first two years of classes at Century College in White Bear Lake. Kumar, now a plant biology major at the U of M, is from Colorado. By starting at Century, she saved herself from paying at least two years of out-of-state tuition at the U.
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"It was going to be three times as much," she said. "It was definitely community college that was the best option."
"We think that it's a factor that more and more, especially adult students are considering."
Minnesota community college officials say starting out at a lower-priced two-year college is becoming more popular in light of the poor economy.
Mike Bruner, vice president for student services at Century College, said in the last few years the school has seen an increase in the number of students planning to start at Century and finish at the U of M.
"We think that it's a factor that more and more, especially adult students are considering," Bruner said. "More and more parents are looking at those kinds of things."
Community colleges use their lower tuition prices to attract students who want to save money, but still earn the credits they need to get into the U of M as juniors.
And they say their image gets a boost when their transfer students are accepted at the U, because it shows Minnesota's two-year schools are offering up a valuable education.
"They've proven themselves here," said Ralph Anderson, vice president of student affairs at Normandale Community College. "The University of Minnesota has certain standards for admissions ... so our students have met that standard just like a University of Minnesota student has. I think they're prepared well to survive when they get over to the University."
Community college officials in Minnesota say their students do just as well or better academically than students who start out as freshmen at the U of M.
University of Minnesota officials say they have some anecdotal evidence that shows the same, although they say there's no solid data to back up that claim at this point. But they do say transfers make good students.
Lauren Bolopue said her transfer from Century College to the University went fairly smoothly. Although Bolopue, who studies neuroscience, said she could have used more help adapting to life at the U.
"I think transfer students are assumed that we must be comfortable with college already so they don't need to spend as much time showing us around," Bolopue said. "But at the same time this is a new place just as it is with the freshmen."
The U is concerned however that transfer students aren't always happy once they come to the U. Surveys show they're less satisfied with their experience at the U of M than students who started as freshmen.
The National Survey on Student Engagement, which came out earlier this week, shows transfer students at colleges across the country take part in fewer campus activities than other students.
Bob McMaster, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education at the U, said they plan to take a closer look at the experience of transfer students over the next year.
"To better understand how to serve these transfers," McMaster said. "We're always going to have a large number of transfers coming to the University, as we should, so how do we serve them the best is the question."
McMaster said the U has spent a lot of energy on welcoming new freshmen to campus over the last two years. Now, he said the school wants to take a similar approach with students who come to campus a few years later.