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Improving the Odds: An Empirical Look at the Factors That Influence Upward Transfer

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Improving the Odds: An Empirical Look at the Factors That Influence Upward Transfer

December 30, 1899

by Jonathan M. Turk and Wei-Lin Chen

Community colleges serve approximately 40% of the total annual undergraduate enrollment in the United States.  Each year, these open access institutions provide opportunities to millions of students to participate in adult and continuing education programs, to earn technical and career-based certificates and associate degrees in both general education and specialized fields, and/or to prepare for transfer to four-year institutions.  However, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers have been concerned by the fact that too few students successfully navigate the complex process of transferring from a two-year to a four-year institution.

In this research brief, the authors explore student- and institutional-level factors that influence the likelihood of upward transfer for students who enroll in community college directly after high school.  Analyzing national data collected as a part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS), the authors discuss eight key findings drawn from their multilevel regression model and present five recommendations for high school educators, faculty and staff at colleges and universities, and policymakers to consider to increase upward transfer rates.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Dual enrollment and AP/IB course-taking have a positive effect on upward transfer rates.

  • Strong academic performance in high school positively impacts the likelihood of upward transfer.

  • Behavioral problems in high school negatively impact the likelihood of upward transfer.

  • College aspirations and planning are associated with higher rates of upward transfer.

  • Enrollment decisions, before and soon after matriculating to a community college, greatly impact upward transfer rates.

The authors recommend that schools, colleges and universities, and policymakers should work cooperatively to:

  • Ensure that all students have access to rigorous high school curricula.

  • Expand access to and strengthen college and career counseling in high school.

  • Ensure that students have access to financial aid and that existing financial aid systems better serve students.

  • Reexamine academic advising programs to ensure that they are serving the needs of community college students.

  • Reduce barriers to transfer by developing comprehensive transfer and articulation policies.

Each year, community colleges play a vital role in helping millions of students make progress towards a bachelor’s degree. As the demographics of the nation continue to change, education systems must be prepared to adapt to the needs of an increasingly diverse student body. Educators and policymakers at all levels have roles to play in order to ensure that students have the greatest chances of achieving their educational goals. ​​​​​​​​​



Dr. Ellen Wagner, Hobsons' Vice President of Research, hosted the authors for a webinar on May 18, 2017 to review the findings from the research brief and to discuss strategies for practitioners and policymakers to increase upward transfer rates.

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