Should Community College Students Earn an Associate Degree Before Transferring to a Four-Year Institution?

First Author
Peter M. Crosta

Full Author Citation
Crosta, P. & Kopko, E.



This paper investigates whether community college students who earn an associate degree before transferring to a four-year college are more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than students who transfer without earning an associate degree. Using data on students in one state who entered community college and then transferred, we find large, positive apparent impacts of earning the transfer-oriented associate degree on the probability of earning a bachelor’s degree within four, five, and six years. We do not find any apparent impact associated with earning one of the workforce-oriented degrees that are awarded by programs typically designed for direct labor market entry.

The transfer study, "Should Community College Students Earn an Associate Degree Before Transferring to a Four-Year Institution?", examined community college students in a state with an articulation agreement that guarantees credit capture for students who transfer with an associate of arts or science degree. The study compared only community college students who had earned between 50 and 90 college credits before transferring.  After pairing students with similar characteristics, the study found:

  • Students who transfer with an associate degree were 49% more likely to complete a bachelor's degree within four years, and 22% more likely to earn one within six years.
  • The type of associate degree students earn matters: those who transferred with an AA or AS degree were more likely to complete a bachelor's degree than students who transferred with 50-90 credits but no degree. Students who earned an Associate of Applied Science degree were less likely to complete a bachelor's than students with 50-90 credits but no degree.


Counseling and Education Plans Student Data Systems & Predictors of Success

Resource Type



WestEd Memo

Whether they are international students with little exposure to English or U.S. born and educated students raised in non-English-speaking homes, language minority students face diverse and unique challenges in postsecondary education that existing ESL programs do not always address. The resources explore what gaps currently exist in ESL instruction and supports and how schools can respond to improve the success of their language minority students.

For a synthesis of research see ESL Strategies (WestEd Memo).


Resources, research, and web sites referenced in "Changing Course: A Guide to Increasing Student Completion in Community Colleges."

Creating lasting and impactful reform relies on the presence of stakeholders who are invested in the change process. However, getting widespread buy-in to this process can be difficult as it often means requires increased effort and adapting to new policies and procedures. In this topic, you’ll find a variety of resources on encouraging staff and faculty engagement and on developing a schoolwide culture that supports reform.

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