Should You Go to a Community College First?

In the wake of rapidly rising tuition prices, many students are turning to community colleges as a more economical way to getting a bachelor’s degree. One study reports that as many as 81% of students who enroll in a community college intend to transfer to a four-year school. It’s not a bad plan, and it’s one that can save you some money, and give you more support in your first couple years of college if you need it. The question is, do these students succeed in achieving a bachelor’s degree? One recent study has revealed some interesting answers.

The good news is, when similar students are compared, those transferring from two-year schools are just as likely to graduate as peers who started at 4-year institutions (and they’ve saved themselves some cash).

The bad news? Only about 40% of community college students who intended to receive their bachelor’s end up transferring, and many of those students are penalized by losing anywhere between 10-90% of their credits.

Only 58% of transfers in our national sample are able to bring all or almost all of their credits with them. We find that, even after controlling for college GPA and credits earned, those students who can transfer most of their credits are more likely to complete a BA.

Loss of credits can be a huge setback to a transfer student. The current BA attainment rate of transfers from community colleges is 46%. The authors of the study speculate that if more students could transfer most of their credits the BA attainment rate could jump to 54%.

What's a Transfer Student To Do?

If you plan on receiving your bachelor’s by starting at a community college, there’s a good chance you will succeed, as long as your transfer is successful! There are many community colleges that have close relationships with local four-year universities. Be sure to ask the admissions department about the success of their student transfers to get an idea of how easy it will be for you to accomplish the same task.

There could be a variety of reasons why many of the two-year students who initially sought to complete a bachelor’s did not end up transferring. Perhaps they were satisfied with their associate’s and felt no need to continue. Especially considering in some areas those with an associate’s degrees can actually out-earn those with bachelor’s degrees.

And of course, just like four-year colleges, not all two-year schools are created equal. While many community colleges do a great job educating their students, there are certainly some schools that are not as strong. Students who attend a sub-par community college will have a difficult time catching up to their peers in 4-year schools, regardless of how many credits transfer.  Do some research ahead of time to determine the success rate of graduates from your chosen school.