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Community College Transfers with Associate Degrees See $50K Benefit

August 7, 2013

Some thrifty individuals choose to attend two-year community colleges before transferring to four-year colleges with the goal of saving some money. Most of these students transfer as soon as they can, even if they have not completed their associate degrees. Finishing school as quickly as possible should save students more money by minimizing tuition and getting them into the workforce faster, right? Maybe not, suggests new research from the Community College Research Center. In fact, transferring too soon could be a $50,000 mistake -- and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

A recent study from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College calculates that the benefit of earning an associate degree before going to a four-year college can add up to about $50,000 over the course of 20 years. Study author Clive Belfield believes the reasoning is two-fold: First, community colleges are cheaper, so finishing as much of your education as you can in a two-year program saves money in the long run. Second, the dropout rate for students who transfer to a four-year school with an associate degree is lower than those without a credential. The study was based on an analysis of students who attended the North Carolina Community College System between 2001 and 2010.

The Columbia study is not the only one that suggests students benefit from earning associate degrees before attending four-year programs: A study published this week by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found that the baccalaureate attainment rate for students transferring with two-year degrees in the 2005-2006 academic year was 72 percent, while completion rates for those without a credential was a more modest 56 percent.

"The majority of students who transfer from a two-year to a four-year institution are successful, but pre-transfer degrees, destination institutions, timing of transfer, and enrollment intensity are all important factors in completion," said Dr. Doug Shapiro, executive director of the NSCRC. In a press release published on PR Newswire, he commented on the research findings: "The results will help students, institutions and policymakers to better understand the different pathways to college success."

The NSCRC report identified other key trends among transfer students, too. For instance, those who attended full-time after transfer had a baccalaureate completion rate of 83 percent, while the rate for those who attended part-time was less than 25 percent. Graduation rates were also higher for those who transferred to public institutions (65 percent) than for those who attended private schools (60 percent).

So what happens to those who transfer and subsequently drop out of four-year colleges without finishing any credential at all? All is not lost: According to another study published in June, students who have at least some college under their belts earn an average of $8,000 more per year than those with a high school diploma alone. College graduates are still likely to earn the most, however, and this premium tends to grow with advanced degrees.


Compiled by Aimee Hosler

Sources:

"Baccalaureate Attainment: A National View of the Postsecondary Outcomes of Students Who Transfer from Two-Year to Four-Year Institutions," studentclearinghouse.info, August 2013

"Over 60 Percent of Students Transferring from a Two-Year College Go On to Complete Four-Year Degrees," prnewswire.com, August 6, 2013

"The Economic Benefits of Attaining an Associate Degree Before Transfer: Evidence From North Carolina," columbia.edu, July 2013, Clive Belfield

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