The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree
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
generating this disparity.
This study explores this issue using
national longitudinal transcript data and propensity-score methods.
academic preparation does not seem to be the main
culprit: there are 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
have BA graduation rates equal to similar students
who begin at 4-year colleges. However, after 2 years, credit
diverges in the two kinds of institutions, due in
part to community college students’ greater involvement in employment,
a higher likelihood of stopping out of college,
after controlling for their academic performance.
Contrary to some
claims, a vocational emphasis in
community college is not a major factor behind the disparity. One
mechanism is the widespread loss of credits that
occurs after undergraduates transfer from a community college to a
institution; the greater the loss, the lower the
chances of completing a BA. However, earlier claims that community
students receive lower aid levels after transfer
and that transfers disproportionately fail to survive through the senior
year are not supported by this analysis.