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New Research Shows Current Community College Transfer System Needs Significant Improvement

by NSC Blog | Jan 21, 2016 | Research Reports, Research Services |

State Results Vary on Colleges’ Performance in Helping Students Transfer to Four-Year Universities and Earn Bachelor’s Degrees

A new report released by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University; the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program; and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center finds that across the United States, only 14 percent of students starting in community colleges transfer to four-year schools and earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of entry.

Even in states with the best track records, only about one in five community college students transfer and graduate within six years of enrolling. The report uses data from the National Student Clearinghouse to study the cohort of more than 700,000 degree-seeking students who entered higher education for the first time through a community college in the fall of 2007. Read the full report.

“This report enables us, for the first time, to see in which states colleges are supporting students in this journey so we can figure out what works and enable students everywhere to be successful.”

Davis Jenkins
Senior Research Associate at Community College Research Center

“These data indicate that the practices of the colleges — their programs for transfer students and collaboration between two and four-year destination colleges — can make a big difference in whether transfer students are successful or not,” said Douglas Shapiro, Executive Research Director at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “This makes it clear how important it is for two- and four-year institutions to work together to fix the transfer problem.”

States above the national average both in transferring students from community colleges to four-year schools and in bachelor’s degree attainment include: Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas.

States more successful in reducing the disparity between low-income transfer students and their higher-income peers on bachelor’s degree attainment include: Florida, Iowa, North Dakota, and New Hampshire.

Table 1 shows certificate and degree outcomes for all students in the fall 2007 cohort and for those who transferred to a four-year institution.

Table 1. Six-Year Student Outcomes
Outcome Fall 2007 Cohort Transfer Students
Earned a certificate or associate degree



Earned a bachelor’s degree



Number of students



Table 2 shows the certificate and degree outcomes for lower and higher income transfer students in the fall 2007 cohort.

Table 2. Six-Year Outcomes of Transfer Students by Income
Outcome Lower Income Higher Income All Transfers
Earned a pre-transfer certificate or associate degree



Earned a bachelor’s degree



Number of students




The report states the following implications for institutional leaders and policymakers:

Implications for Institutional Leaders:

  • Two- and four-year institutions should regularly monitor their performance in serving transfer students using common metrics that track students all the way to bachelor’s completion.
  • Institutions should benchmark their effectiveness in serving transfer students against high-performing institutions and their own historical performance.

Implications for Policymakers:

  • Identify strategic opportunities to improve transfer and degree outcomes.
  • Focus on narrowing equity gaps in transfer outcomes.
  • Very selective four-year institutions should be encouraged to enroll more community college transfer students.
  • Engage in efforts to improve outcomes for students who transfer to less selective four-year institutions, particularly public regional universities.

Building on this research, CCRC and the Aspen Institute will develop a “playbook” for creating effective transfer partnerships for community college and university leaders. It is scheduled to be released in spring 2016 in collaboration with Public Agenda.

The full report can be found at: http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/publications/tracking-transfer-institutional-state-effectiveness.html.

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