IERC at SIUE Study Affirms Community College Pathway to Bachelor’s Completion

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The Illinois Education Research Council at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville released a study recently showing that there does not appear to be a disadvantage against community college students transferring to 4-year institutions with regards to bachelor’s degree completion.

“Based on our findings, there is no evidence to support the notion that a significant community college penalty exists.” Associate Director for Research at the IERC Eric Lichtenberger

The Illinois Education Research Council released a study today showing that there does not appear to be a disadvantage against community college students transferring to 4-year institutions with regards to bachelor’s degree completion.

The study indicated 85 percent of community college transfers earned a bachelor’s degree within five academic years of transitioning to a 4-year institution. Comparatively, rising four-year juniors completed at a rate of 86 percent during the same time period.

“Based on our findings, there is no evidence to support the notion that a significant community college penalty exists,” said Eric Lichtenberger, associate director for research at the IERC and assistant research professor at SIUE. “Community college transfer students were just as likely to complete a bachelor’s degree as 4-year college juniors when matching on key factors.”

Lichtenberger said past studies have garnered mixed results, some indicating a clear community college penalty exists, while others showing no support for the claim.

“We analyzed bachelor’s degree completion after transfer, while simultaneously controlling for student background characteristics, as well as high school and college contexts,” he said. “In other words, community college transfer students were matched to similar rising four-year college juniors from the same high schools who attended similarly selective four-year colleges.”

“After making sure the groups were similar on key characteristics, the difference in the rate of degree completion was non-significant.”

From a policy perspective, the study indicated policy makers should:

Continue developing baseline information about transfer performance as the state’s longitudinal data system is fully implemented;
Set goals for institutional performance related to community college to 4-year transfer rates;
Help community college transfer students face their financial aid future by developing information and incentives that fully span their undergraduate enrollment from a community college to a 4-year institution.

The study starts with 23,676 Illinois high school graduates from the class of 2003 who went to college and nationally tracks bachelor’s degree completion until the end of 2010.

For more information, contact Lichtenberger, the author of the report, (618) 650-2840 or (866) 799-4372. A complete copy of the report is available at siue.edu/ierc/publications/index.shtml

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Bethany Behrhorst
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
618-401-1691
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