First-generation students benefit from starting at a community college
One of the knocks against community colleges has been that students who complete two-year degrees are less likely to continue on and complete their bachelor’s degree than their peers at four-year colleges.
This was confirmed back in 2009, when Bridget Terry Long and Michal Kurlaender found that students who initially began at community colleges were 14.5% less likely to complete bachelor’s degrees within 9 years than their peers who started a a four-year college.
Student success rates for four-year vs. two-year colleges
A January 2014 Calder working paper by Erin Dunlop Velez of the American Institutes of Research backed up this assertion, finding that 70% of four-year college dropouts had a “higher predicted probability of success” by beginning at a four-year college over a two-year one.
But what about that other 30%?
It turns out that they would have been more likely to complete their bachelor’s degree if they had started at a two-year college.
Velez also found that first-generation college students, in particular, benefitted from starting at a community college, with 40% being more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree if they had begun at a two-year college.
Why two-year colleges are a smart choice for some students
There are several factors that could contribute to this phenomenon among first-generation college students.
Because first-generation college students often come from poorer backgrounds than their peers and two-colleges are, on average, much less expensive than four-year colleges, it’s possible that incurring less debt in their first two years of college helped them continue pursuing an education. According to Velez’s paper, the average annual tuition and fees for a full-time, in-state student attending a two-year college is about one-third the cost of attending a public four-year institution.
Additionally, because community colleges tend to be close to home, the added support of family and friends nearby might have been a motivating factor to help the student succeed, particularly for students for whom the idea of pursuing higher education is a newer one.
Having the college close to home may have also reduced the initial shock of starting college in an unfamiliar city in which the student lacks close ties.
Whatever the reason, it’s important to recognize the value of attending a community college, particularly for students who may be better suited for them.
Finding the right college for you
There’s no one-size-fit-all choice when it comes to choosing a college.
Some students may be better off attending 4-year colleges, but for others, starting a two-year college can increase their likelihood of graduating and help them avoid excessive student loan debt.
An inexpensive community college can help students who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford a four-year college earn bachelor’s degrees. Many two-year colleges offer “2+2” programs with prestigious 4-year universities, which can significantly reduce your overall cost of college.
Whether you’re a first-generation college student or not, saving tens of thousands of dollars on college by attending a school with one of these partnerships can be a wise financial decision.
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