What About the Non-Completers? The Labor Market Returns to Progress in Community College

By: Matthew Zeidenberg, Marc Scott, & Clive Belfield | February 2015

In this study, the authors present a novel method for linking non-completers with completers according to their program of study. This method allows them to calculate the labor market returns to programs of study, accounting both for those who obtain an award and those who do not. The study uses a large dataset of community college transcripts matched with earnings data.

The results show that returns vary not only by program completion but also by program non-completion. Consequently, combining data on completers and non-completers yields a new pattern of returns. For some awards, this leads to wider earnings differentials. However,the variance in returns by subject of study is reduced when combining data on completers and non-completers. Finally, progression in a program per se does not lead to higher earnings for students who do not complete (even as it demonstrably does for students who complete their program). If validated, these findings have significant implications for policies on program choice and on student retention policies.

A version of this paper is available in the Economics of Education Review.

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