Community College Student Success

Exploring the Many Pathways to Completion and Labor Participation

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Community colleges in the United States, with their open access and low-tuition missions, play a vital role in our education system and more research is needed in order to better understand how and why students succeed here.

ACE | Hobsons

Starfish partnered with the American Council on Education to conduct a four-part research study to evaluate the impact of student characteristics on upward transfer, degree completion, and early labor market success for a dramatically understudied group of students: community college and transfer students. Combining previously unexplored data with new cutting-edge statistical techniques, this research paints a clearer picture of what helps students at two-year institutions succeed.

Scroll down for research highlights and to download the full reports.

Improving the Odds: An Empirical Look at the Factors that Influence Upward Transfer

Each year, millions of high school graduates enter community colleges with the goal of transferring to a four-year institution. This study empirically explores the relationship between nine key student characteristics and successful upward transfer, and offers five strategies for increasing upward transfer rates.

Key Findings:

  • If a student takes college classes in high school (also known as dual enrollment), that student is more likely to be successful transferring to a four-year institution.
  • Students with strong academics, college aspirations, and exposure to college planning in high school are more likely to be successful transfer students.

Identifying Predictors of Credential Completion Among Beginning Community College Students

This study explores the relationships between student demographic characteristics, pre-college academic preparation, college aspirations and plans, early postsecondary enrollment decisions, and academic and non-academic experiences at the students’ first postsecondary institution and the probability of completing a postsecondary credential.

Key Findings:

  • Earning a strong college GPA and completing more credits in the first year of college were the strongest overall predictors of postsecondary credential completion.
  • Earning a strong high school GPA, earning dual-enrollment credits, and taking a college entrance exam before leaving high school were significant predictors of postsecondary credential completion.

The Impact of Earning an Associate Degree Prior to Transfer on Bachelor's Degree Completion: A Look at Recent High School Graduates

A large and increasing number of students are enrolling in multiple colleges and universities during their postsecondary careers. This study examines the impact of earning an associate degree prior to transfer on the probability of earning a bachelor’s degree, and offers strategies for strengthening the value of an associate degree as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree for transfer students.

Key Findings:

  • Earning an associate degree prior to transfer neither increased nor decreased the likelihood of bachelor’s degree attainment.
  • Earning a strong GPA while enrolled in community college and the control and selectivity of the four-year institutions students transfer to are stronger predictors of bachelor’s degree attainment.

STUDY 4: Expected Release May 2018

It is well known that the human capital investment of higher education leads to, on average, larger economic returns. This study will focus on initial labor market outcomes post-college enrollment. Specifically, this study will explore the impact of upward transfer and degree completion on employment status, salary, and financial health eight years post high school graduation.

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