Study finds majority of two-year college transfers complete four-year degrees

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

More than 60 percent of students who transferred from two-year schools in the 2005-2006 academic year obtained bachelor's degrees at four-year institutions, according to a new report issued by Indiana University's Project on Academic Success and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The latest Signature Report, "Baccalaureate Attainment: A National View of the Postsecondary Outcomes of Students Who Transfer from Two-Year to Four-Year Institutions," also found that some of those who hadn't earned a degree during the time period under study were on the way to doing so: 8 percent remained in college and were still working on a four-year degree six years after transfer.

The report is based on student-level data made available to the clearinghouse by its more than 3,500 participating colleges and universities, including 98 percent of students attending public and private nonprofit postsecondary institutions.

"These results really underscore the key role two-year institutions can play supporting student pathways to bachelor's degrees," said Mary Ziskin, senior associate director at the Project on Academic Success and a report co-author. "Many students who transferred from two- to four-year institutions successfully completed degrees within six years of transferring."

The other report co-authors are Doug Shapiro, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center executive research director, and Afet Dundar, associate director. Other Project on Academic Success co-authors are Jin Chen, research associate; Autumn Harrell, research associate; Yi-Chen Chiang, research associate; and Vasti Torres, who is now dean of the University of South Florida College of Education but was director of PAS during the time of the study.

Studying six-year outcomes of students who transferred during the 2005-2006 academic year, the report also found that:

  • Most students transfer from two- to four-year institutions without first receiving a credential from the two-year institution;
  • Baccalaureate attainment rates were higher for students who transferred with a two-year degree or certificate (72 percent) than for those who transferred without a credential (56 percent);
  • Students transferring to a four-year public institution had a 65 percent completion rate compared to a 60 percent completion rate for those transferring to a four-year private institution;
  • The gap in the six-year completion rate was large (26 percentage points) between students who transferred to a four-year institution within one year of their most recent enrollment at a two-year institution and students who transferred after stopping-out for more than one year;
  • There is a negligible difference (less than 2 percent) in completion after transfer between women and men;
  • Students attending full time after transfer had a better chance of graduating than those who attended part time or with mixed enrollment (83 percent, 24.8 percent, and 62.1 percent respectively).

The report also found that most two- to four-year transfer students moved to schools listed by Carnegie Basic Classification as master's degree or or research/doctoral degree-granting institutions.

In addition, the report compares students transferring into four-year institutions from two-year institutions to those who started at four-year institutions. It finds that, after eight years, students who started at a two-year institution and subsequently transferred completed at the rate of 73.5 percent, while those who began at a four-year institution completed at a rate of 63.2 percent.

"This report shows the continuing importance of community college in educating graduates," Torres said. "Though most students transfer before completing the associate's degree, our study points to the benefit of completing the degree prior to the transfer."

This report is part of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center's Signature Report series. The Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization that facilitates the exchange and understanding of student enrollment, degree and certificate records on behalf of its more than 3,500 participating higher education institutions. The Signature Reports focus on important issues related to students' college access and progress nationwide.

The Project on Academic Success is part of the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University and conducts practice- and policy-oriented research on opportunity and equity in postsecondary education and the multiple pathways that 21st-century students follow toward postsecondary academic success. The center's team brings to its research efforts a diversity of specialties including student financial aid policy, college choice, enrollment management, and racial and gender equity. The Project on Academic Success has published numerous reports regarding student persistence trends, the effects of debt on student success outcomes and institutional practices enhancing student academic success.