The University Network

4-Year College Students May Benefit From Community College Courses

For students attending four-year colleges and universities, taking some courses at a community college may boost their academic and employment outcomes, according to a new working paper from the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia University. 

The authors of the paper determined that four-year college students who completed 1-10 credits at a community college were nearly 5 percent more likely to earn their bachelor’s degree than those who earned no community college credits. Four-year students who took courses at a community college also earned more total credits and landed higher paying jobs. 

“On average, supplemental enrollment is associated with more total college credits earned, increased likelihood of bachelor’s degree attainment, and higher hourly wages in the labor market — without increasing student loan debt,” the authors wrote in their report. 

And for certain subgroups, including Black students, Latinx students, low-income students and female students, earning course credit at a community college was proven to have had added benefits. 

For example, women who took community college courses were 4.5 percent more likely than their female peers who didn’t take community college classes to earn their bachelor’s degree.  Low-income students who took community college courses earned 9.8 more total college credits than their counterparts. And Black and Latinx students who took community college courses owed an average $5,888 less in student loans.

The benefits of community college courses

There are a number of reasons why taking some courses at a community college may benefit four-year students, particularly those in certain subgroups.  

The first, the authors explained, is that community colleges tend to offer more flexible schedules, sometimes offering courses year-round. Students can earn their bachelor’s degrees quicker by taking courses in the summer or outside of their traditional course schedule at their four-year institutions. 

Second, classes at community colleges are often much cheaper than those at four-year institutions. Students can take prerequisite or elective courses at a cheaper overall price, which will reduce the cost of their education. 

Additionally, the authors noted, community colleges, which tend to have small class sizes, can help underrepresented students earn STEM credits. 

For example, female four-year students who took courses at community colleges were 6.2 percent more likely to earn a STEM-related bachelor’s degree than their female peers who didn’t take community college classes. Low-income students were 11 percent more likely to earn a STEM degree than their counterparts. And Black and Latinx students earned an average of 3.17 more STEM credits than their counterparts. 

“The same subgroups of students who are underrepresented in STEM programs — including female, Black, and Latinx students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds — are overrepresented in community colleges,” the authors wrote. “Four-year students from these subgroups may find community colleges to be a more academically supportive environment to earn STEM credits.”

And because grades earned from transfer courses are typically not included in a student’s overall GPA, students may be more willing to take courses they perceive to be challenging, like STEM courses, at two-year colleges instead. 

Making supplemental enrollment easier

Across the United States, nearly one in five of all four-year students earns credits from a community college, the authors explained. Given the clear benefits of combining a two-year and four-year education, the process needs to be made easier for students.

“There are steps that both two-year and four-year colleges can take to streamline the process of supplemental enrollment for students,” the authors wrote. “For example, standardized course numbering across two-year and four-year colleges and clear policies on transferrable credits are vital to preventing credit loss and creating an efficient supplemental enrollment experience.”