Persistence: The Success of Students Who Transfer from Community Colleges to Selective Four-Year Institutions

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation / January 2019

male professor blue polo talking to students

With an ever-increasing number of college-aspiring students coming from families facing financial need, many are opting to start their higher education journey at a community college. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation commissioned this report in order to better understand the trend of community college students transferring to selective four-year institutions, and to study their persistence post-transfer. The word “persistence” refers in this report to the drive and determination possessed by students transferring from community colleges to selective institutions.

This report, for the first time, disaggregates the transfer student population to examine the patterns and outcomes of students transferring from two-year colleges versus those transferring between four-year institutions. Notably, at the 100 most selective colleges, 14 percent of students transfer in, but only 5 percent have transferred from a community college.

We recognize, of course, that there are limits to these and other findings in the report. Matching is another force at play in students’ college journey and persistence, and the National Student Clearinghouse data do not provide information on academic performance prior to transfer or student demographics — such as family income, race, and gender—that would allow us to better understand these transfer patterns. We recognize, for example, that not all students who start their college career at a community college are low-income. Compelling future research projects could examine the demographics of transferring community college students, and look at how transferring may impact their intended course of study.