Panel Paper: Pathways and Barriers to Community College Transfer and Student Success

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 10:55 AM
Aztec (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Adela Soliz, Harvard University and Angela Boatman, Vanderbilt University
Community colleges now enroll a larger share of undergraduates than any other higher education sector.  In 2010, 47 percent of undergraduates attended community colleges (College Board, 2013), and recent surveys indicate that well over half of these students intend to transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree (Horn, 2009; Provasnik and Planty, 2008).  However, just over 20 percent community college students ever transfer to a four-year institution (Hossler et al., 2012), and there is evidence that these transfer rates are even lower for Black and Latino students (Sengupta and Jensen, 2006; Driscoll and Orfield, 2012).  

Several public higher education systems have developed transfer articulation policies, which align associate and bachelor degree programs across institutions, by developing a common core of courses, in an effort to simplify the transfer process. Despite an increasing interest in articulation policies, little conclusive evidence has been found about the effectiveness of these policies. Our study aims to examine the effects of one of the largest statewide articulation and transfer policies in the United States, the Ohio Transfer Module (TM).  The TM is a set of general education requirements that represents a body of knowledge common across all Ohio colleges and universities.  Individuals who successfully complete the TM at a two-year institution are considered to have met the TM requirements of a receiving four-year institution, and are able to move more seamlessly across institutions without confusion or disruption.  Our study is guided by two research questions: First, does completing the TM increase probability of transfer and subsequent degree attainment?  Second, for students who do transfer, does completing the TM have secondary benefits such as decreasing the number of excess credits students accumulate before obtaining their degrees?

Our study makes use of administrative data from the Ohio Board of Regents describing students who entered one of the 46 Ohio public community colleges in 2002, 2003 or 2004. We use an instrumental variables model as well as propensity score matching to explore the causal effect of completing the TM on transfer and subsequent degree completion as well as whether there are secondary benefits of completing the TM for those students who successfully manage to transfer.  Our initial results suggest that completing the TM does not increase probability of transfer, but that TM completers who transfer finish their B.A. with fewer excess credits than students who transfer without completing the TM.  The results from this analysis provide important insight into the extent to which articulation policies affect subsequent academic outcomes for students interested in and motivated to transfer.  The transition from two-year to four-year colleges can be a difficult one for students.  This study helps inform policymakers as to whether an academic pathway alone can ease that transition, and/or if more precise advising and hands-on interventions may be necessary.