A lot of swirling in Michigan

A new report on recent four-year college graduates in Michigan shows that a significant number of them attended a community college on their way toward a baccalaureate. And though a substantial number of them started at a community college before transferring to a four-year institution, many also took summer courses or concurrent courses at community colleges.

The report — funded by the Michigan College Access Network in collaboration with the Michigan Center for Student Success — illustrates how much students “swirl” among various higher education institutions before attaining a bachelor’s degree. Among all of the state’s baccalaureate graduates over the six-year period studied, 43 percent transferred at least once, and 31 percent did so at least once through a community college.

Fewer students are following the traditional path toward a baccalaureate that includes starting at a four-year university and taking classes only at that institution, said the report’s author, Jason Taylor, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Utah.

“That’s just not the reality of how students engage in higher education,” he said.

Taylor examined transfer and mobility in Michigan to understand how students successfully use community college transfer options to move toward a bachelor’s degree. He used a sample of 2015 bachelor’s degree graduates from all public and independent universities in Michigan who completed college within six years.

Among four-year degree graduates who attended community college, 57 percent started at a community college and transferred to a four-year university, but 43 percent began at a four-year institution and attended a community college at some point before attaining a bachelor’s degree. Even among baccalaureate earners who followed the traditional pathway — those who enrolled at a four-year university every year — between 14 percent and 21 percent enrolled in a community college for at least one term, the report said.

Going the public and private route

Regional public universities had the most community college transfers among their baccalaureate graduates, as well as the most graduates who attended a community college at some point. For example, among the 2,750 students earning a bachelor’s degree at Western Michigan University over the period studied, nearly 20 percent attended a community college for their first two years, and about half had enrolled at a community college at some point.

Seven public universities — about half of Michigan’s public four-year institutions — have more than 40 percent of bachelor’s graduates who attended a community college, the report said.

Even highly selective four-year institutions, such as the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, had a substantial number of baccalaureate earners who enrolled at a community college at some time (15 percent of the 5,753 bachelor’s degree graduates). These numbers were primarily driven by students who were taking summer or concurrent courses at community colleges, Taylor said.

Although they confer fewer bachelor’s degrees than public universities, a larger percentage of Michigan’s independent four-year institution graduates tend to use community colleges. For example, 9.4 percent of the 374 baccalaureate graduates of the University of Detroit Mercy enrolled at a community college for their first two years, and 52 percent enrolled at a community college at some point. Of the 26 independent colleges and universities, about 21 percent have more than 40 percent of bachelor’s degree graduates who attended a community college.

Source: “Postsecondary Transfers and Mobility in Michigan: Exploring Transfer Patterns, Programs, Places, and People,” Michigan Center for Student Success, Michigan Community College Association, August 2019.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.