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Does Taking a Few Courses at a Community College Improve the Baccalaureate, STEM, and Labor Market Outcomes of Four-Year College Students?

Does Taking a Few Courses at a Community College Improve the Baccalaureate, STEM, and Labor Market Outcomes of Four-Year College Students?

Nationally, 38.5% of the students who began at a four-year college in 2011–12 attended another college within the first six years of college entry, and more than half of these students attended a community college. Eight percent of students who began at a four-year institution took up to 10 credits at a community college during the same period. Given the number of students involved, it is helpful to better understand how this kind of postsecondary enrollment pattern affects students.

This paper considers a sample of “supplementally enrolled” students who began in and primarily enrolled in four-year colleges but who also earned limited numbers of credits at community colleges. The authors use student data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 and a propensity score matching approach to compare key outcomes of four-year college students who earned 1 to 10 credits at two-year colleges during their first three years at college with those of four-year college students who never earned credits in a two-year college. Many of the supplementally enrolled students took STEM courses at a two-year college.

The supplementally enrolled students had higher STEM and total credits earned, higher bachelor’s degree attainment, and better employment outcomes than the students who never earned credits from a two-year college. Subgroup results also suggest that supplemental enrollment can potentially improve STEM degree attainment outcomes, particularly for low-socioeconomic-status and female students.