tc columbia

Stratified Trajectories: Charting Equity Gaps in Program Pathways Among Community College Students

By Yuxin Lin, Maggie P. Fay & John Fink
Stratified Trajectories: Charting Equity Gaps in Program Pathways Among Community College Students

A primary focus among colleges implementing student success reforms has been to increase overall rates of credential completion and to reduce racial and socioeconomic equity gaps in completion rates. The focus on general completion may overlook inequities in the type of program students complete, which is particularly significant given the wide variety of credentials offered at community colleges—from short-term certificates to transfer-oriented associate degrees that may lead to bachelor’s and graduate degree programs—and the resulting variation in labor market returns among completers.

This study examines racial/ethnic stratification among community college students as they enter and progress through different programs leading to higher- and lower-paying jobs. The authors develop a discrete-time survival analysis using longitudinal enrollment and transcript data on first-time-in-college, credential-seeking community college students from a state with more than 20 community colleges. They track student enrollment, completion, and transfer for up to nine years and examine when equity gaps in completion emerge. They also measure the student achievement of academic milestones (such as levels of credit accrual) along educational pathways that are associated with higher rates of credential completion and transfer over the long term.

Results suggest that a significant gap in the likelihood of bachelor’s degree completion between Black and White students emerges more episodically, while the gap between Hispanic and White students develops earlier and remains more consistent over time. Results also suggest that while all students generally benefit from the attainment of academic milestones, such as gaining credit momentum or completing pre-transfer associate degrees, doing so disproportionately benefits Black and Hispanic students.