Panel Paper: Segmental Shift: Baccalaureate Aspirations That Lead to the Community College

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 8:00 AM
Plaza I (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jessica Howell, The College Board and Peter Bahr, University of Michigan
Students who take a college placement exam like the SAT or ACT clearly have some aspiration and intention of attending a four-year college.  As they learn that four-year college options are too expensive for the family budget or too overcrowded to accommodate even academically well-prepared students, how do they alter their postsecondary plans?  One viable option is to begin their postsecondary study at a local community college where the bill is cheaper and the admission barriers of four-year institutions don’t exist.  This research examines whether there has been a shift over time of baccalaureate-aspiring students to two-year institutions.  Such a shift would have important public policy implications for how we think about funding two-year institutions, policies governing articulation and transfer, the role of these institutions in meeting national degree completion goals, and the evidence on the potential labor market penalty associated with starting at a two-year college.

This research question has not been sufficiently addressed in the literature because community college administrative datasets do not typically include college placement test scores (or even reasonable proxies such as high school GPA), which are not required for admission to two-year institutions.  Taking a college entrance exam may be a better measure of true baccalaureate intention than survey responses to questions about college aspirations, particularly because it is possible to control for multiple testing attempts as a further indicator of aspiration intensity. We match 15 cohorts of first-time community college enrollees in the California Community College system to SAT data from the College Board to determine whether and to what degree there has been a shift over time in baccalaureate-aspiring students into two-year institutions.  Term-by-term transcript data enables a close examination of students' enrollment intensity, course-taking patterns and success, and various outcomes (certificate completion, Associate's degree completion, upward transfer).  This research unpacks the black box of what happens inside community colleges for students who both academically ready for four-year college and have the aspirations to complete a Bachelor's degree.