Study debunks community college completion myths

Transfer students just as likely to graduate from four-year colleges as direct university entrants
By: | Issue: May, 2014
April 21, 2014

Dozens of reports written over the last four decades have created the generally accepted theory that community college students who transfer to universities graduate at lower rate than do students who start out at four-year institutions.

So when David Monaghan and Paul Attewell, researchers at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, began to analyze those studies to uncover when and why it was happening, they got a surprise: the theory, they determined, is actually a myth.

“Most undergrads in community colleges are accumulating credits for the first two years at roughly the same rate as students who started college at a four-year institution,” says Attewell. “And those students who do transfer from a two-year to a four-year college are completing BA degrees at the same rate as students who started at four-year schools.”

In their report, “The Community College Route to the Bachelor’s Degree,” published on behalf of the American Educational Research Association and Sage Publications, Attewell and Monaghan tried to find the origin of the myth. They concluded that the more credits students lose in transferring, the more likely they are to drop out. Only 58 percent of students who transferred were able to bring most or all of their credits with them. Students who had 60 or more credits also had the highest number of credits lost.

Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, says that in his experience, community college students are transferring extraordinarily well, with the best results being to select universities with which the AACC has partnered.

“Students who go on to universities with which we have established transfer agreements perform better and graduate at higher average rates than those who start at a university as native students,” he says.

Community colleges enroll about half of all U.S. undergraduates, according to the AACC.