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Report Reveals Community College Transfer, Degree Trends

A new study sheds light on how effectively community colleges across the nation are equipping students to obtain a credential and to transfer to another institution for a higher degree.

Out of more than 1 million students who started post-secondary education at a community college, only 60,000 transferred into a baccalaureate program after receiving their certificate or associate’s degree, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Further, 350,000 community college students – more than one-third – transferred without a degree, revealed the study, titled “Transfer and Mobility: A National View of Student Movement in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2011 Cohort.”

The cohort included 2.8 million first-time public and private college students with 1.5 million, more than half, attending two-year schools.

While asserting that community colleges “play an incredibly important role in our higher education ecosystem,” Dr. Jason Taylor, an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Utah, noted that the report “shows only a small number of community college students transfer to a four-year institution with a credential. The research also suggests that hundreds of thousands of community college transfer students could benefit from reverse transfer programs that help them complete associate’s degrees.”

Student mobility was significant, according to the study data. More than 1 million of the 2.8 million students continued their studies at a different institution within their first six years, resulting in an overall transfer rate of 38 percent. Also, nearly two in five of the students who began their post-secondary career in fall 2011 enrolled in more than one institution within six years before earning a bachelor’s degree.

Doug Shapiro, executive director of the Research Center, called mobility patterns “diverse and complex.” He said the report “helps institutions go beyond first-time, full-time cohorts to understand nontraditional students, part-time and full-time, who transfer in and out of multiple institutions.”

For the first time, the report also includes transfer patterns by race and ethnicity, providing insight into how different populations and traditionally underrepresented groups navigate the postsecondary pipeline in comparison to their peers.

For example, Black, Hispanic, Asian and White students had similar overall mobility rates but different patterns of origin and destination institutions. Of those transferring from a two-year institution, White and Asian students were more likely to transfer into four-year institutions (50.4 percent and 49.8 percent, respectively) than Hispanic and Black students (39.5 percent and 33.2 percent, respectively).

Additionally, among those who transferred from a four-year to a two-year school, Asian and White students were more likely to have done so during the summer only (45.6 percent and 40.6 percent, respectively) than Hispanic and Black students (32.8 percent and 26.5 percent, respectively).

A final interesting discovery: Out of all four-year to two-year transfers, 36.1 percent were “summer swirlers” who returned to their starting institution in the fall – a strategy was found in an earlier Clearinghouse report to correlate with higher degree-completion rates at the starting institution.

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