The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree
The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree
Published online first in:
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


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.

News Coverage

You can’t take it with you; more than 40 percent of community college transfer students unable to transfer their credits to a four-year school
The Hechinger Report (Education by the Numbers), April 21, 2014

Community-College Quiz: What's in a Name? (subscription required)
The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2014

For students who transfer, lost credits can doom college hopes
ReutersMarch 24, 2014

Community college grads face obstacles in transferring credits
Consumer Affairs, March 21, 2014

Making the Jump to a Four-Year Degree Difficult for Community College Students
Ed Beat (Blog - Education Writers Association), March 21, 2014

Community college students less likely to earn 4-year degree due to 'lost' credits
MLive, March 21, 2014

No more bad credit - Colleges should work to ensure students can successfully transfer their community college credits
The Cavalier Daily (University of Virginia), March 21, 2014


Why many community college students don't graduate, March 20, 2014

Despite transfer roadblocks, community college transfers as likely to earn BA as 4-year
ScienceDaily, March 19, 2014

Academic credits lost when students transfer from community colleges, study suggests
The Daily Free Press (Boston University), March 19, 2014

Community college transfers as likely to earn a BA as four-year students, despite credit transfer roadblocks, March 19, 2014

Starting All Over Again
Inside Higher Ed, March 19, 2014


Report: 1 in 10 Community College Transfers Lose Nearly All Course Credits
U.S. News & World Report, March 19, 2014


Credits Could Be Game-Changer For Transfers  
Politico Pro, March 19, 2014


Barriers to credit transfers lower graduation rates, new study finds
The Hechinger Report, March 19, 2014

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