Community College Coursework Improves Chances of Bachelor Degree Completion, New Paper Finds

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

Supplemental enrollment in community college coursework offers students a leg up on college completion and affordability, according to a new paper from the Community College Research Center.

The report utilized data from the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS) — a national longitudinal survey of students who were high school sophomores in 2002 — and aims to provide current college students with additional guidance on how to navigate higher education in the wake of the novel coronavirus.

The data  — which looked at course completion outcomes for college students eight years following their college entry — made comparisons between individuals who earned less than 10 credits at a community college during the course of their first three years of enrollment at a four-year college and similar four-year college students who did not complete any community college credit. 

“This research suggests that, at the very least, many students who take courses at a community college do not experience a penalty in terms of academic or labor market outcomes,” the authors wrote. “Further, supplemental enrollment is cost-effective: It did not increase student loan debt for any group and reduced it for Black and Latinx students.”

Compared to four-year college students who earned no community college credits, supplementally enrolled students on average had a 4.5% higher bachelor’s degree completion rate and earned $1.40 more per hour. Further, the completion of some community college coursework led to Black and Latinx students earning 3.17% more in STEM college credits and having $5,888 less in student loan debt.

The paper also noted that community college courses are considerably cheaper than coursework at four-year institutions, which may incentivize students to take some electives or prerequisite courses to lower their overall cost of a baccalaureate education.


Publication Date: 7/16/2020

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