Community College Transfer and Completion

by Collin Ruud / Oct 23, 2012

A new report released from the National Student Clearinghouse has highlighted the importance of community college attendance on today’s bachelor’s degree graduates. According to the report, 45% of all baccalaureate degree recipients in the 2010-11 school year had been enrolled at a community college for at least one term. This report was featured in the September 10 issue of Inside Higher Ed.

Further, of those students, 24 percent had been enrolled at the two-year institution for just one term, 16 percent for two terms, and 19 percent for three or four terms. But a full 12 percent were enrolled for at least 10 terms, suggesting that even students who spend a significant length of time at a community college might eventually go on to a four-year college.

These findings are not necessarily surprising given what we know about transfer student mobility, but certainly highlight that almost a majority of students who receive the four-year degree use community colleges as a vehicle to do so.

In many states, including ours (Illinois), that percentage of students is indeed a majority, with at least half of all students who complete a four-year degree having been enrolled at a community college. States with low rates of prior community college enrollment include Alaska (19%), New Hampshire and Delaware (22%), Massachusetts and Maine (23%), and South Dakota (25%), with many states below the 40% mark. Texas tops the charts with a 78% rate of baccalaureate graduates having prior community college enrollment.

For students who do transfer but never complete, there are few options available (and we had a short-term Lumina-funded project that examined midpoint credentials as means of awarding credentials to students en route to baccalaureate degrees), but some states are attempting to alleviate that issue. We recently blogged about one of OCCRL’s latest research projects, entitled Credit When It’s Due (CWID). This multi-state initiative, funded by five foundations, provides funding to states to develop programs and policies that grant associate degrees to students who have transferred to four-year degree programs prior to completion of the two-year degree if they meet the qualifications for the associate degree. These programs are designed to ensure that students receive “credit when its due” in terms of receiving their intended two-year degrees, and to provide credentials to students for advancement in the job market should they stop out or drop out of their four-year degree program.

The CWID-funded states were only announced a couple of weeks ago; many of these states will begin implementation this academic year. CWID provides one avenue for degree completion among students who, for many reasons, may not complete the baccalaureate degree after transfer. However, as the National Student Clearinghouse report points out, a large number of students who do receive 4-year degrees are doing so via transfer.

What are your thoughts? How have community colleges played a pivotal role in your educational and professional attainment?