Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Getting from a(A) to B(A): The Effect of Structured Transfer Pathways in Community Colleges

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 9:30 AM
Hibiscus (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Rachel Baker, Stanford University
Rates of persistence and completion in community colleges have long been a focus of policy and popular attention; most of the students who set out to earn degrees never do. Of the many solutions to tackle this problem, strategies that address the structural impediments present in community colleges (the profusion of potential pathways, complicated curricular routes, a lack of coordination between the 2- and 4-year sectors, insufficient information and support) are promising because they are affordable, scalable, and relatively easy to sell politically.  Structured transfer programs, which outline for students an explicit sequence of community college courses that will transfer to a system of four-year schools, are one example of such an intervention. This paper is the first to provide rigorous empirical evidence of the effects of these programs. Leveraging the phased rollout of transfer programs across departments across the California Community Colleges, I find significant effects of the policy on degrees earned in treated departments using a differences-in-differences-in-differences strategy. Departments that started offering Associate’s-degrees-for-transfer saw growth in the number of degrees granted of about 40%.  In the first two years of the program, this growth in departments was not coupled with growth in the total number of degrees granted by schools or in the number of students who successfully transferred, providing evidence that these additional degrees could be the result of students switching majors or earning multiple degrees in the same department. There is evidence that this is changing; in the third year of the intervention (the last year for which there is data) schools granted more Associate’s degrees as an effect of the policy, and there is suggestive evidence that more students transferred into public four-year schools in California. The analyses also provide evidence that the policy could be having effects on equity; as treated departments become more popular traditionally disadvantaged groups are getting closed out of classes.