Report Details Community College Transfer, Degree Attainment Rates

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A report released by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College of Columbia University has discovered that just 14% of students who begin their higher education careers in community colleges transfer to a four-year school and earn a bachelor’s degree within six years.

The report, “Tracking Transfer New Measures of Institutional and State Effectiveness in Helping Community College Students Attain Bachelor’s Degrees,” found that even in states that show high results in this area, only around one in every five community college students will transfer and graduate within six years of enrollment.  Meanwhile, for states at the other end of the spectrum, results are within the single digits.

“Too many students are failed by the current system of transfer between community colleges and universities,” said Davis Jenkins, Senior Research Associate at CCRC. “This report enables us, for the first time, to see in which states colleges are supporting students in this journey so we can figure out what works and enable students everywhere to be successful. Greater success for more students will cut down on the waste in taxpayer money when students drop out or lose credits as they transfer.”

Findings show that the majority of states that are home to low-income students who are more likely to enroll in community colleges perform lower on most transfer measurements than states where higher-income students reside.

In addition, large variations in the effectiveness of community colleges and four-year colleges to aid in the successful transfer of students were also observed.  These differences were not found to be due to serving low or high-income students, being located in an urban or suburban setting, or having a more academic focus.  Instead, students at public colleges tended to earn their bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than students at private schools, as did students at more highly selective schools.

Researchers found Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas to have the highest rates of transferring students to four-year schools and successful completion of bachelor’s programs.  Meanwhile, Washington came in among the bottom 10 across the nation with 26% of its community college students transferring and 49% of that corhort earning a bachelor’s degree.  California and Iowa were both found to hold a below-average transfer rate but are among the top 10 for bachelor’s attainment rates, while Michigan and Montana saw high transfer rates but low bachelor completion rates.

Lastly, Florida, Iowa, North Dakota, New Hampshire were all found to be successful at reducing the difference between high and low-income students’ abilities to successfully transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree program.

It is the hope of researchers to take their findings and create a “playbook” that will allow for the creation of more effective partnerships between community college and university leaders.  This should be released in spring 2016 through a collaboration with Public Agenda.

The Community College Research Center was founded in 1998 with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. A variety of philanthropic organizations have supported CCRC’s work, including the Ford Foundation, Lumina Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The CCRC is led by economist Thomas R. Bailey.