How and Why Does Two-Year College Entry Influence Baccalaureate Aspirants’ Academic and Labor Market Outcomes?

By: Di Xu, Shanna Smith Jaggars, & Jeffrey Fletcher | April 2016

Using detailed administrative data from Virginia, this paper examines how and why the community college pathway to a baccalaureate influences students’ degree attainment and short-term labor market performance. The authors find that the community college pathway sharply reduces the likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree but does not have a significant impact on students’ short-term labor market performance.

The paper examines various mechanisms that may stand in the way of students’ baccalaureate completion: the impacts of two-year attendance on early academic progress, the logistical challenges inherent in selecting and enrolling in a four-year transfer destination, the loss of credits at the point of transfer, and post-transfer academic “shock.” Results suggest that the primary culprit is that many otherwise successful community college students never enter a four-year transfer destination. Among students who do transfer, their probability of baccalaureate attainment and their short-term labor market performance are comparable to those of native four-year students. After taking into account the lower costs of community college attendance, a cost-benefit analysis finds that two-year entrants fare as well as or better than four-year entrants, at least in the short run (eight years after college entry).

A version of this paper authored by Di Xu, Shanna Smith Jaggars, Jeffrey Fletcher, and John Fink, titled “Are Community College Transfer Students ‘A Good Bet’ for 4-Year Admissions? Comparing Academic and Labor-Market Outcomes Between Transfer and Native 4-Year College Students,” appears in The Journal of Higher Education, vol. 89.

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