The Economic Benefits of Attaining an Associate Degree Before Transfer: Evidence from North Carolina (CCRC Working Paper No. 62)

By: Clive Belfield | Community College Research Center | July 2013

Many students enroll in a two-year college with the intention of transferring to a four-year college and obtaining a bachelor’s degree. These students must decide whether to first complete their associate degree at the two-year college and then transfer, or to transfer earlier without earning a degree from the two-year college.

This paper presents a model for making the optimal transfer decision. The author considers each possible outcome and uses data on student credit accumulation, award receipt, and labor market returns from students in the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) to calculate which outcome is best, given its probability of occurring. The findings suggest that, on economic grounds, more NCCCS students should complete their associate degree before transferring to a four-year institution to attempt a bachelor’s degree, as relatively few students who transfer early ever complete a bachelor’s degree and thus leave college with no credential.

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