tc columbia

It's Not Enough to Get Through the Open Door: Inequalities by Social Background in Transfer From Community College to Four-Year Colleges

By: Kevin Dougherty & Gregory S. Kienzl


The growing policy interest in community colleges as gateways to a baccalaureate degree naturally raises the questions of how equitably transfer opportunities are distributed by student background and what factors explain background differences that might be found.

The authors analyze two nationally representative datasets to examine how the likelihood of transfer is affected by social background, precollege academic characteristics, external demands at college entrance, and experiences during college. The authors find that students from higher income families have significantly higher transfer rates, in part due to advantages in precollege academic preparation and educational aspirations. Older college entrants are much less likely to transfer than are students entering college right out of high school, with a significant portion of this gap due to having lower educational aspirations, children, part-time enrollment, and a vocational major.

Though women and non-Whites differ from men and Whites in transfer rates, these differences are not statistically significant. But there is an important caveat. Blacks tend to have higher educational aspirations than Whites of the same socioeconomic background. When the authors control for educational aspirations, thus removing Blacks students' aspirational advantage, the Black-White gap in transfer rates widens considerably, becoming statistically significant in one of the study's samples but not the other.

This article was published in the Teachers College Record, vol. 108.