About the Post

Elizabeth S. Park

Author Information

Elizabeth Park is a Ph.D. candidate focusing on higher education policy at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.

What Happens After Community College?

College_Street_ReutersIn my previous post, I summarized that community colleges are non-selective institutions that serve students with various educational goals. I also cited a few statistics, one of which was about how three out of five students begin their community college journey in developmental education. I also added that this rate is higher in California.

Upon reading my previous blog post, a friend and colleague asked me a series of great follow-up questions, most of which I didn’t have an answer for readily. Her questions prompted me to go digging for the answers.

Below are some of my thoughts and responses to the questions she raised.

Do you have studies on where these community college students end up? For example, if they transfer to a 4 year university do they finish?

This is a great question. One study that immediately came to mind is a 2010 study conducted by Mary Perry, Peter Bahr, Matthew Rosin, and Kathryn Woodward on the course-taking patterns in the California Community Colleges[1]. Students who started off at the higher levels of the developmental (also referred to as remedial) sequence tend to enroll full time, were of traditional college age and transferred at a higher rate. Other studies found similar results as students who place higher in the developmental sequence tend to pass and enroll at a higher rate[2]. Perry et al. found that about half of the students in their Fall 2002 cohort sample enrolled in a remedial course during a seven year period, and about a third of these students completed a credential or a degree and/or transferred.

These studies suggest that certain “factors,” such as starting off at the higher levels of the sequence, younger in age, and enrolling full-time are correlated with higher success rates—if success is defined as completing a credential/degree or transferring to a four year institution. Few caveats worth mentioning here are: 1) these factors are not deterministic, meaning students who are older, attend school part-time, and/or start off lower in the sequence may perform just as well depending on the student; and 2) some authors argue that success for community college students should be measured not by whether they transferred or have obtained an Associate’s degree, but by the level of personal development and enrichment gained from higher education[3].

Bridget Terry Long and Michal Kurleander in 2009[4] conducted a study using administrative data from Ohio to see whether students who started off at community colleges fare better or worse than similar students who start at four year colleges. These authors found that students who started at community colleges compared with 4-year nonselective institutions, were significantly less likely to have completed baccalaureate degrees during the time frame[5]. Students who started off their 4-year journey at a community college were slightly less likely to complete bachelor’s degrees than students who began at non-selective 4-year colleges.

Upon looking into more recent studies, I came across a 2016 study by the Campaign for College Opportunity that looked at the six year progress of the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) program established in 2010 under Senate Bill 1440[6]. This bill allowed students with 60 community college transfer-applicable semester units[7] to receive guaranteed admission with junior standing into the California State Universities (CSU). The report concluded that the number of students granted ADT doubled every year since the implementation of SB 1440. Unfortunately, the report notes a caveat to this statistic. The report notes that while students are utilizing the ADT program, 92% of the students who transfer are doing so without necessarily the help of the Associate Degree for Transfer program. Also, while the students receiving the ADT has increased, the total number of students transferring to the CSU system hasn’t increased. This report provides a first look at the ADT articulation agreement between two higher education systems. This is a work in progress, however. As of January 2016, only 20 community colleges are fully compliant with the ADT pathway program. Because the CSU system and the California Community College system are continuously working out the degree alignment, the report presents a progress update, but not a conclusive picture.

All this to say … well, it’s complicated. But, there are a few things we know from research. Students who attend school part-time, are older in age, and/or who start off at the lower end of the developmental sequence at community colleges may need additional support, guidance and resources from the institution. Also, it will be interesting to see the outcomes of more recent efforts to increase alignment (e.g., ADT), and how the results square with prior studies.

More thoughts on placements, student support, and cost-benefit implications at community colleges will be offered later, in part II of the this post. In the meantime, I welcome any constructive feedback.


[1] http://edsource.org/wp-content/publications/FULL-CC-DevelopmentalCoursetaking.pdf

[2] Fong, K., Melguizo, T., & Prather, G. (2015). Increasing success rates in developmental math: The complementary role of individual and institutional characteristics. Research in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1007/s11162-015-9368-9.

[3] Bahr, P. R. (2014). The labor market return in earnings to community to college credits and credentials in California. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, School of Education, University of Michigan. Retrieved from: http://www.soe.umich.edu/people/profile/peter_riley_bahr/

[4] Long, B. and Kurleander, M. (2009). Do community colleges provide a viable pathway to a Baccalaureate Degree? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33(1): 30-53. DOI: 10.3102/0162373708327756.

[5] The authors looked at 9-year, 6-year and 4-year graduation rates.

[6] http://collegecampaign.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/2016-Keeping-the-Promise_Full-Report-FINAL.pdf

[7] ADT applies to students with 60 semester or 90 quarter units.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.