This study examined the impact of earning an associate degree prior to transfer on the probability of earning a bachelor’s degree. In this study, all students began their postsecondary enrollment in a community college and transferred to a four-year institution. However, some had earned associate degrees before transferring while others had not. Because students self-select into earning or not earning an associate degree, doubly robust estimation for causal inference—a propensity score based technique—was used to estimate less biased and more accurate results.

The results indicate that earning an associate degree prior to transfer neither increased nor decreased the likelihood of completing a bachelor’s degree. The full results of study suggest that factors including earning a strong GPA while enrolled in community college and the control and selectivity of the four-year institutions to which students transfer are stronger predictors of bachelor’s degree attainment.

This brief concludes with three recommendations for policymakers and practitioners to help increase degree attainment and reduce the proportion of the population with some college, but no degree:

  • Actively promote the economic value of an associate degree to students.
  • Encourage bachelor’s degree attainment through comprehensive transfer and articulation policies that incentivize associate degree completion.
  • Establish clear policies for reverse transfer and degree reclamation.
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