Nationally, only 14 percent of community college students go on to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. In Connecticut, that percentage is even lower – 10 percent. That’s the finding in a new study measuring states’ effectiveness at helping community college students attain four-year degrees. In the best-performing states—Wyoming, Montana, and Maryland—nearly 20 percent of community college students earned a bachelor’s within six years. But in several states, bachelor’s completion rates were in the single digits. Connecticut ranked 30th out of 43 states. The study was released this week by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University.
As the cost of higher education continues to grow, the role of considerably less-expensive community colleges - and their success at helping students earn an associate’s degree and continue in higher education is receiving more scrutiny. The study concluded that "transfer outcomes depend on what community colleges and 4-year colleges do to teach and support their students." The data also indicated that 36 percent of higher income students transfer to a 4-year school while 28 percent of low-income students do. A diminishing percentage complete the requirements for a bachelor's degree after transferring.
The study’s analysis indicated that for “students who plan to transfer to a four-year college, there too often is no clear path through the thicket of choices at the community college and across the divide to the four-year school. Though as many as 80 percent of new community college students want to get a bachelor’s degree, only about 14 percent transfer and graduate within six years.”
The Connecticut State University and College System has developed a Transfer and Articulation Program (TAP) aimed at “ensuring Connecticut community college students complete degree programs that transfer to the Connecticut State Universities and Charter Oak State College “without either losing or generating excess credit.”
Under the new plan, students attending any of the state’s 12 community colleges enrolled in the program would complete the first 60-63 credits at a community college and the final 60-63 credits at one of the state universities (Central, Eastern, Southern or Western). The program, which launches for students entering college in the Fall 2016 semester, will allow students to select from “over 20 concentrations that prepare them to complete four-year bachelor’s degrees.”
The first TAP pathway—Biology—was approved by the Board of Regents last month, “after careful review by TAP's Framework Implementation and Review Committee (FIRC) and curriculum committees on all 17 CSCU campuses.” Additional pathways are slated to be determined beginning next month, with a total of 11 initially to be selected. Possible subject areas include history, chemistry, communication, criminology, English, math, political science, psychology, social work and sociology, according to the state Board of Regents website.
“This research tells Connecticut that far too many community college students are failing to meet their higher education goals,” said Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate at the center, told the Connecticut Post. The TAP program aims to help address that. The study found that students who can tranfer 90 percent of their crfedits are 205 percent more likely to earn their bachelor's degree, compared to those who transfer half or less.
The study looked at the outcomes of more than 700,000 degree-seeking students nationwide who entered higher education through a community college in fall 2007, providing evidence about where students are getting stuck in particular states.
Some states, such as Oklahoma, had above-average rates of transfer out of community colleges but low transfer-student graduation rates at four-year schools. In others, such as Washington, community colleges transferred out relatively few students, but relatively high numbers of those who transferred earned bachelor’s degrees. In the states where more community college entrants earned bachelor’s degrees, both rates tended to be high, according to the study’s authors.
The study also found that “the student demographics at community colleges appear to matter less than how the colleges serve students aiming to transfer. Regardless of whether they are rural or urban, or serving mostly lower or higher income students, community colleges can boost the transfer success of their students by looking to better performing schools to inform their practices.”
Housed at Teachers College, Columbia University, CCRC strategically assesses the problems and performance of community colleges in order to contribute to the development of practice and policy that expands access to higher education and promotes success for all students.