Four-year college students benefit from taking some community college courses

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Earning a few community college credits can benefit four-year college students’ academic, STEM and employment outcomes without increasing their student loan debt, according to a new report from the Community College Research Center (CCRC).

Four-year college students who took one to 10 credits at a two-year college had a 4.5 percentage point higher bachelor’s degree completion rate than four-year college students who earned no community college credits, the report says. They also earned $1.40 more per hour.

Greater benefits for certain students

Researchers also looked at certain groups, including black and Latino students, low-income students and females. Each subgroup saw benefits from the additional credits earned at a community college.

“Our findings provide empirical evidence that two-year courses may be more successful in helping female and low-income students build confidence and perform well, especially in STEM fields,” the report says.

For example, low-income students had a 6.5 percent point higher baccalaureate completion rate, women earned 4.3 more STEM college credits, and black and Latinx students had $5,888 less in student loan debt, the report says.

CCRC researchers used student data from the 2002 Education Longitudinal Study and a propensity score matching approach to compare key outcomes of four-year college students who earned one 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 at a two-year college.

Why students take the courses

The report notes several ways extra courses at a community college can benefit four-year college students, including:

Increased course options and availability. Students can take courses that are not offered in a particular semester or are in conflict with their course schedule at their four-year college. Two-year colleges also are more geographically accessible and offer more flexible schedules, often offering some courses year-round. In addition, four-year students can potentially reduce time-to-degree by taking two-year courses in the summer or outside of four-year class time.

Less-expensive courses. The cost factor may encourage students to take some electives or prerequisite courses to lower their overall baccalaureate education bill.

Supportive environment. Community colleges offer smaller classes with more personal attention. Supplemental enrollment also may serve as a strategy for accruing STEM credits, particularly for students from subgroups traditionally underrepresented in STEM.

Areas to build on

Nationally, 38.5 percent 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, CCRC says. Eight percent of students who began at a four-year institution took up to 10 credits at a community college during the same period.

Since there is such a crossover between two-year and four-year education, both two-year and four-year colleges can take steps to streamline the process of supplemental enrollment for students, the report says. For example, standardized course numbering across two-year and four-year colleges and clear policies on transferrable credits are “vital to preventing credit loss and creating an efficient supplemental enrollment experience.”

Researchers also recommended further examining the impact of a growing number of four-year college students attending community colleges. Two areas to study are whether having more baccalaureate students “crowds out the resources” of other community college students, and whether supplemental enrollment serves to shift costs from students to taxpayers.

About the Author

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