Report: Students benefit by leaving 4-year colleges for 2-year degrees

(Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)

(Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)

Students who struggle to complete their bachelor’s degrees could benefit from transferring to community colleges, an unusual reverse of direction in higher education.

A report from the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment at Columbia University found that “going backwards” has benefits: “students are more likely than similar non-transfer students to attain two-year college credentials,” especially for women in health programs.

Struggling students who stay at four-year colleges aren’t more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than transfer students, either. In this situation, grit doesn’t seem to pay off.

The overall effect? Students who jump to a community college can earn a college degree and avoid accumulating debt at a college where they won’t complete a degree.

“The raw statistics show that the chances of completing a bachelor’s degree was less than 32 percent for those who scored less than a 3.0 GPA in their first semester,” Vivian Yuen Ting Liu, the author, wrote. “Facilitating the transfer process to a two-year college may thus give struggling students a better chance of completing a college credential, which in turn may make them more competitive in the labor market.”

If four-year colleges can’t improve graduation rates and support struggling students, those students could find success at a community college.

“What’s important is that the transfers are planned and that community colleges recognize that articulation agreements need to work both ways so students aren’t just accumulating credits they can’t use at either institution,” Ashley A. Smith wrote for Inside Higher Ed.

Though policy has focused on moving community college students to a four-year institution, individual success could push many students the other way.


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