Only 42% Of Community College Transfers Finish a Bachelor’s Degree Within 6 Years

Posted By Eliana Osborn on February 3, 2016 at 12:09 pm
Only 42% Of Community College Transfers Finish a Bachelor’s Degree Within 6 Years

Starting your college path at a community college is an increasingly popular way to reduce overall higher education costs.  While some students finish certification programs and complete their education, many enroll planning to transition to a four-year school once they’ve earned an associate degree.

A new report from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University looks at how often those transfers actually happen.  The report’s goal is to accurately measure the effectiveness of community colleges—especially considering the Obama administration’s proposal to make them free for all students.

The report found that  nationally, 14% of students who started at a community college in 2007 transferred to a four-year college.  Of those that transferred, 42% finished a bachelor’s degree within 6 years.

Of course, some students don’t ever intend to move on past the community college level, but 14% is a surprisingly low number – especially considering that, according to some studies, 80% of community college students plan to transfer on to a four-year school.  And once these students do transfer to a four-year school, less than half are able to complete a degree in six years.  There are several issues at hand here: actually transferring, success after transfer, and the timeline for degree completion.

These transfer levels are particularly dispiriting for poor students, those who most often rely on community college as their entry to higher education.  The Hechinger Report explains, “Low-income students who transfer from community colleges to four-year colleges are less likely to get a degree than their wealthier peers. But in a sign of hope, their success varies dramatically by state and by college.”

The CCRC report highlights the state-to-state differences in transfer success.  Florida ranked highly on the number of students transferring out, as well as the number of completed degrees.  Other states that ranked highly include Maryland, New Jersey, and Illinois.  California, Washington, and Iowa have the highest rates of bachelor’s degree earning for transfer students. Though, their overall transfer numbers are not remarkable.  No state crossed the 50% threshold for community college students getting their bachelor’s degrees in six years.

Transfer students also did better at certain types of schools, no matter the characteristics of the community college they transferred from.  Those moving on to non-selective schools had worse graduation rates, as well as those who transferred to for-profit universities.  Public four-year universities showed 11% more success in terms of degrees than private non-profit schools.  Though less than 10% of transfer students move to for-profit schools, there is concern over their active recruitment of community college students.

The CCRC report concludes their analysis with this summary: “This [report] implies that how institutions serve transfer students matters: Institutional practices that serve transfer students well can lead to better-than-expected outcomes for institutions with relatively few resources or more educationally disadvantaged students. It also indicates that institutions could improve their transfer performance if they changed the way they serve transfer students and worked more closely with their transfer partners.”

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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