The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree
 
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Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis
March 19, 2014

David B. Monaghan, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York
Paul Attewell, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Abstract

It is well established that students who begin post-secondary education at a community college are less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than otherwise similar undergraduates who begin at a 4-year school, but there is less consensus over the mechanisms generating this disparity. We explore these using national longitudinal transcript data and propensity-score methods. Inferior academic preparation does not seem to be the main culprit: We find few differences between students’ academic progress at each type of institution during the first 2 years of college and (contrary to some earlier scholarship) students who do transfer have BA graduation rates equal to similar students who begin at 4-year colleges. However, after 2 years, credit accumulation diverges in the two kinds of institutions, due in part to community college students’ greater involvement in employment, and a higher likelihood of stopping out of college, after controlling for their academic performance. Contrary to some earlier claims, we find that a vocational emphasis in community college is not a major factor behind the disparity. One important mechanism is the widespread loss of credits that occurs after undergraduates transfer from a community college to a 4-year institution; the greater the loss, the lower the chances of completing a BA. However, earlier claims that community college students receive lower aid levels after transfer and that transfers disproportionately fail to survive through the senior year are not supported by our analyses.


 
 
   
     
   
 
 
 
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