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Community College Courses and the Bachelor's Degree

July 15, 2020

Students who take a few courses at community colleges increase their chances of earning a bachelor's degree, according to a new study from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College.

The report followed students who were in 10th grade in 2002 for eight years, and then compared students who did and did not earn one to 10 credits at a community college. About 8 percent who primarily enrolled at a four-year college also took community college courses.

Those students had a 4.5-percentage-point higher bachelor's degree completion rate and earned $1.40 more per hour at work, compared to four-year students who earned no community college credits.

The results were even better for low-income students who took community college courses. Their completion rate was 6.5 percentage points higher than those who didn't take community college courses. They also had an 11-percentage-point higher completion rate for bachelor's degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

Black and Latinx students who took supplemental courses earned 3.17 more STEM credits than their counterparts, and women who took community college courses earned 4.3 more STEM credits than those who didn't. Black and Latinx students who took community college courses also had $5,888 less in student loan debt than those who didn't.

The report posits that the causes of these benefits could be the lower cost of community college courses, the increased course options, more diverse STEM classrooms and smaller classes.

The center recommends that institutions and policy makers monitor this group of students on their own to improve tracking policies for transfer credits. They also recommend that two- and four-year colleges explore why women and low-income students do better in STEM courses at community colleges.

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