Does community college divert students from four-year degrees?


(engaging music) – [Narrator] Seventeen
million students were enrolled in four-year colleges in 2017. At the same time, nearly
9 million students were enrolled in public two-year colleges. These two-year colleges—that are known as community colleges—
are, for many students, a first step to a four-year degree. In fact, if you take all the students who earned a bachelor’s, or equivalent, in the 2015–16 school
year, half had enrolled in a two-year college at some point in the previous decade. But many students who
enter a two-year college with ambitions toward a
bachelor’s degree never get there. And, students who stop
after community college earn around 30 percent less than
people with bachelor’s degrees. So, do two-year colleges
boost upward mobility? Or, do they cost students, by causing them to miss out on the benefits
of a four-year education? – It looks like, among students who start at a four-year university directly, only about 60 percent of them end up
getting a bachelor’s degree. So about 40 percent of American
students who start at a four-year college or
university are going to drop out. That 60 percent, though, looks very good compared to the average rates
for students who start at a two-year community college. For them, only about 30 percent
are even going to make it into a four-year college as
a result of transferring up. And, overall, only 14 percent
are ultimately gonna get a bachelor’s degree. – [Narrator] That is Chicago
Booth’s Jack Mountjoy. He’s been studying the
effects that the locations of two- and four-year colleges
have on students’ choices of whether and where to begin college, and the long-term consequences
of those choices. – You know, suppose we’re going to build a new two-year community-college campus in a new neighborhood. That’s gonna make access to
two-year college increase for a lot of students in that neighborhood. And, the question is,
you know, first of all, what types of students are
entering that two-year campus? How many of them would not
have gone to college otherwise? And, how many of them are
diverted from starting at four-year colleges and universities? And, then the second question, of course, is just what exactly
are the causal impacts of making those choices on
those two different margins? – [Narrator] Mountjoy
analyzed administrative data from Texas that span the
population of the entire state, linking records from high
schools, colleges, and employers. – I can follow students
from what test scores they’re getting in high school, what sort of courses they were taking, whether they graduate high school. And, then into college, I can see where they initially start college,
whether they transfer, whether they drop out, whether
they ever get a degree, and then follow them for several
years into the labor market by seeing quarterly earnings records. In the data, what I’m
using is the variation in students’ distances
from their high school to the nearest campus. So, you know, “I live a certain distance “from the local two-year college, “and I also live a certain distance “from the local four-year college.” And, I’m comparing students who are equal in their distance to the four-year campus but vary in their distance to a two-year community-college campus. And, surprisingly, that does
have a nontrivial impact on enrollment behavior. So if I were to move you
10 miles further away from a two-year college campus, while holding your distance
to a four-year campus fixed, that actually makes you
about 4 percentage points less likely to ever start
at a two-year college. Likewise, if I keep your distance to a two-year college fixed, and move you 10 miles further
away from a four-year campus, that makes you about
2.5 percentage points less likely to ever start
at the four-year campus. – [Narrator] So if you’re
closer to a two-year college, you’re more likely to end up there. But does that actually
help you in the long run? – So what I find is that
on net, expanding access to two-year colleges does
tend to boost outcomes, so students end up getting more degrees and they end up earning
more in the labor market. But I use my new method to decompose that net outcome into these two different and potentially opposing tribune margins. On the one hand, I find
about two-thirds of the students that now enter a two-year
community college as a result of increased access are much
better off from doing so. They would not have
otherwise gone to any college, and as a result of stepping
foot in a two-year college, they end up having about a
25 percent chance of getting a BA, which is not huge, but
it’s much more than zero, which is what their
alternative would’ve been. And they end up earning about 20 percent more in the labor market after
college, about 10 years out— so we’re following students pretty well into their early careers. – [Narrator] But what about that student who would’ve gone to a
four-year college instead? – So students who would’ve started at a four-year institution
and are now induced into starting at a two-year institution end up about 18 percentage
points less likely to ultimately get a bachelor’s degree, and they earn about $500 per quarter less in the labor market about 10
years out from college entry. – [Narrator] And the results
become even more pronounced when we look at women
and low-income students. – So I split the sample
initially by men versus women and I find that women are
really driving these results. They actually have larger positive gains from going to a two-year college relative to not attending any college, but the women on the margin between two-year and four-year
entry are also having larger negative diversion affects. So women seem to be impacted more on both of these angles compared to men. So when I split the sample by low-income versus high-income students, I find that low-income
students really are the ones gaining the most from expanded
access to two-year colleges. So it turns out both
that low-income students are much less likely to be diverted from four-year to two-year,
the vast majority, about 80 percent of low-income students who are induced into starting
at a two-year campus otherwise would not have
enrolled in any college as a result of expanding access. And, also, conditional
on being in that margin, they have pretty big gains from enrolling in a two-year college. So two-year colleges really
are providing a lot of value for disadvantaged students
because the vast majority of them would not have otherwise
enrolled in any college. Universally expanding access
to two-year community colleges is a very blunt instrument for trying to boost upward mobility. I think instead what
we should be focused on is more targeted policies toward means-tested scholarship
programs for low-income students or coordinated outreach programs
to the types of students that are going to be underrepresented
in higher education more broadly, as a way to really harness two-year colleges as an
engine of upward mobility for the types of students who are actually going to
benefit from them the most.

One Reply to “Does community college divert students from four-year degrees?”

  1. “I find that distance is inversely proportional to likelihood of attendance.” This cat’s analysis is piercingly brilliant!!

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