Background/Context: Transfer from community colleges to selective four-year institutions is an issue that assumes great importance for the democratization of postsecondary education. Yet research on what influences transfer to selective four-year institutions is surprisingly sparse. Transfer research typically lumps four-year schools receiving community college transfers into one group. This approach neglects heterogeneity in institutional selectivity and fails to study forces underlying the varied pathways to four-year institutions.
Purpose: This research fills the gap in the literature by exploring the following question: What student and institutional factors are associated with transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions of varying selectivity? This study is aimed at identifying beneficial experiences to support community college students’ pathway to the baccalaureate, especially at selective institutions.
Research Design: This study drew upon several national data sources and a nationally representative sample of all first-time postsecondary students beginning at a public two-year college in 2003–2004. Based on the study’s conceptual framework that depicts the relationship between transfer and various individual and institutional factors, I analyzed the hypothesized relationships using a multilevel path model.
Findings: The study shows that few community college students transferred to highly selective institutions. In terms of individual factors that distinguish those who transfer to highly selective institutions from their counterparts who transfer to moderately or less selective schools, holding baccalaureate expectations and transfer intent seems to benefit those who transfer to selective institutions much more strongly than those who transfer to less selective ones. Similarly, rigorous course-taking distinguishes not only those who transfer from those who do not, but also those who transfer to highly selective institutions from their transfer counterparts headed toward moderately or less selective colleges. However, integrative experiences and first-term GPA show no significant relationship with upward transfer. As for institutional characteristics, percentage of certificates and vocational associate degrees awarded is negatively associated with transfer to highly and moderately selective institutions, while it does not particularly affect chances of transfer to less selective institutions. Furthermore, employment of part-time instructional faculty and staff does not benefit or hurt community college students’ chances of transfer, and, overall, proximity to selective institutions does not appear to be influential either.
Conclusions: This study’s findings reinforce persistent issues associated with access and transfer to selective institutions for community college students. Both education policy and research must continue to tackle challenges and create opportunities to help broaden community college student access to four-year institutions.