The data that redefine success in community college

'The idea that there's only one path through college is antiquated,' says researcher

Nearly 50% of students who earned bachelor's degrees in the 2013-2014 school year completed at least a portion of their undergraduate credits at a community college, Inside Higher Ed reports.

According to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 46% of all graduates who received bachelor's degrees last year had enrolled at two-year institutions in the past decade—and 65% of that group completed at least three semesters there.

While many students began at community colleges and then transferred, others dropped in at a two-year school in between stints at four-year institutions.

"The idea that there's only one path through college is antiquated," says Jason DeWitt, a research manager at the center, adding, "We need to really understand the role that community colleges play to better define success in community colleges."

Although some students "undermatch" when choosing less selective colleges, such as two-year institutions, that have lower completion rates—the new study is able to "shed light on an academic pathway that has historically been understated," says DeWitt.

He points out that prior research has shown 62% of students who transfer from two- to four-year institutions earn a bachelor's degree within six years of the switch—and that rate jumps to 72% when looking at students who earned a credential first.

Undermatching likely applies to a small portion of the student body at two-year schools, says Sara Goldrik-Rab, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of educational policy studies and sociology.

"It can't be the case that everybody is held back for life by going to a community college," she says (Smith, Inside Higher Ed, 3/26; GarcÍa Mathewson, EducationDive, 3/27).

The takeaway: Almost half of the students who earned bachelor's degrees last year attended community college at some point in the past 10 years, according to a new study, reports Inside Higher Ed.

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