This report is designed to help improve transfer student outcomes by helping institutional leaders and policymakers better understand current outcomes and providing them with metrics for benchmarking their performance.
The authors propose a common set of metrics for measuring the effectiveness of two- and four-year institutions in enabling degree-seeking students who start college at a community college to transfer to four-year institutions and earn bachelor’s degrees. These include three community college measures—transfer-out rate, transfer-with-award rate, and transfer-out bachelor’s completion rate—and one measure for four-year institutions—transfer-in bachelor’s completion rate. They also examine a fifth measure: the overall rate at which the cohort of students who start at a community college in a given state go on to earn a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution. Using a rich set of data from the National Student Clearinghouse on more than 700,000 degree-seeking students who first enrolled in community college in 2007, the authors calculated the average outcomes on these measures six years after these students entered college.
Performance on all measures varied widely across individual institutions and states. Institutional characteristics were not strongly correlated with student outcomes at community colleges, suggesting that institutions that serve transfer students well can have better-than-expected outcomes even if they have relatively few resources or more disadvantaged students. Among four-year institutions, transfer students had better outcomes at public institutions, very selective institutions, and institutions with higher socioeconomic status students. Lower income transfer students had worse outcomes than higher income students on almost all measures, though in a few states, the success gap between lower and higher income students was small or nonexistent.