Starting All Over Again

Career College Central summary:

  • Students are much less likely to earn a four-year degree if they first enroll at a community college. A key reason, according to a newly released study, is lost credits in the transfer process. The research also dumps cold water on several other explanations for why many community college students fail to eventually complete bachelor’s degrees, such as assumptions about lowered expectations, a vocational focus or inadequate academic rigor during their time at two-year colleges.
  • The journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis published the study this week, which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded. It is dubbed “The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree.” The research was based on a nationally representative group of 13,000 first-time college students who enrolled in 2004 in either community colleges or four-year institutions. It focused on students who said they were interested in pursuing a bachelor's degree. They were interviewed when they first enrolling and then three and six years later. The data included transcript information, so researchers could track students’ academic progress.
  • David B. Monaghan, a doctoral student at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and Paul Attewell, a professor of education there, are the study’s co-authors. They found that lost credits – either for community college courses that four-year institutions did not accept or did not count toward a major – were a serious stumbling block for many transfer students. Inefficiencies around the transfer of credits have a “substantial effect on whether you graduate,” Monaghan said.
  • Many students must retake courses they completed in community college. “About 14 percent of transfer students in the study essentially began anew after transferring,” according to the paper. “Their new institution accepted fewer than 10 percent of their community college credits.”
  • About 58 percent of students were able to bring at least 90 percent of their community college credits with them to a four-year institution, the researchers found. The remaining 28 percent lost between 10 and 89 percent of their credits. Students who get almost all their community college credits to transfer are 2.5 times more likely to earn a four-year degree than students who bring along less than half of their credits.

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