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Community college raises odds of 4-year degree

Enrolling in community college increase students’ chances of earning a bachelor’s degree, concludes a new study. Jennie E. Brand, a professor of sociology at UCLA, analyzed the choices of Chicago public high school graduates. Most didn’t make it all the way: Only 11 percent completed a bachelor’s degree in six years. But community college helped most students and hurt only the most academically prepared.

Some believe community college is a dead end for students who could have started at a four-year institution, notes Inside Higher Ed.  An influential book, Crossing the Finish Line, argues these students are “undermatched” at community colleges.

But the new study found that for the vast majority of students, the alternative to attending community college is not enrolling at a four-year institution, but not to attend college at all.

There is some undermatching for more academically prepared students, who otherwise would have been likely to attend four-year colleges, according to the research. But that group was small in the study’s Chicago sample.

Community colleges “open doors for some people and close doors for others,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a University of Wisconsin sociology professor. For disadvantaged students, community college may be the only realistic option, she said.

The study found that disadvantaged students, who would otherwise not have attended college, are 93 percent more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree if they enroll in a two-year institution. But students who fit the profile for attending a four-year institution and instead enroll in a community college will indeed hurt their odds of earning a bachelor’s degree, according to the study.

Well-prepared middle-class students should think twice about starting at a community college, the study found. They will be more likely to complete a degree if they start at the four-year level.

Few middle-class students start at community colleges, but rising college costs and lingering recession may change that, Brand said