Teachers College, Columbia University

Making the Transition to Four-Year Institutions: Academic Preparation and Transfer

By Josipa Roksa & Juan Carlos Calcagno

In this study, the authors address two questions: To what extent do academically unprepared students transfer to four-year institutions? And can positive experiences in community colleges diminish the role of inadequate academic preparation?

The results, which are based on analyses of Florida's unit record data of first-time community college students, indicate that a substantial proportion of students who enter community colleges academically unprepared do indeed transfer to four-year institutions. Moreover, successful completion of intermediate outcomes—such as passing college-level math and writing courses, meeting specific credit thresholds, and earning an associate degree—enhances students' probability of transfer.

However, the ability of community colleges to mitigate the negative effects of inadequate academic preparation is limited: Successful completion of even the most demanding intermediate outcomes does not alleviate the negative consequences of entering higher education unprepared. The policy implications of these findings are discussed.