APPAM Fall Research Conference 2016

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The APPAM Fall Research Conference is a multi-disciplinary annual research conference that attracts the highest quality research on a wide variety of important current and emerging policy and management issues. The conference is comprised of panels, roundtables, workshops, symposia, and poster presentations and is designed to encourage substantive interaction among participants. This year's theme is "The Role of Research in Making Government More Effective."

Education Northwest's Michelle Hodara, lead author of the recent "Improving Credit Mobility for Community College Transfer Students" study, is participating in the following panel:

Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Student Transfer

Many college students consider whether or not to transfer to another college or university. The National Student Clearinghouse estimates that more than 1 in 3 students switch institutions and nearly half of students who earn bachelor’s degrees had previously attended a community college. The diversity of types of postsecondary institutions and option to transfer gives students more choice to construct their educational pathway. Specifically, the community college transfer option among students seeking bachelor’s degrees is promoted as a cheaper option to earn a bachelor’s degree. This type of transfer is particularly important for society as it provides more access to baccalaureate completion for first generation college students, students of color, and lower-income students, who are more likely to start their postsecondary education at a community college than a four-year institution. The benefits of student mobility in higher education rely on effective transfer between institutions. Yet, in a national study most students lost credits when they transferred which diminished their likelihood of graduating. Another major pattern is "reverse transfer" to two- year institution among students who first start at four-year colleges but struggle academically. Weighing the costs and benefits of transferring between postsecondary institutions is critical in order to optimize students’ educational pathways. To explore the benefits and costs of student mobility in postsecondary education, the papers in this session utilize rich administrative data from two- and four-year colleges across three state higher education systems as well as analysis of transfer-related legislation from 10 states.

The four papers use a variety of research methods, including cost-benefit analysis, instrumental variable research designs, and qualitative policy analysis. The first paper builds upon previous work on transferability of credit by presenting two additional measures of credit transfer: applicability of transferred credit within student’s major and excess credits at graduation. Using the definitions for credit transfer presented in the first paper, the second paper measures the costs and cost-benefits of transferring and tests the hypothesis that students pay less for a bachelor's degree if they start at a community college. The third paper dives into ten states' transfer-related policies to offer recommendations to improve credit transfer between institutions. Finally, the fourth paper examines the reverse transfer route, testing whether students who struggle academically when they start at four-year institutions are better off transferring to community colleges. The papers converge to ask: Under which circumstances is it most ideal for students to transfer to another postsecondary institution, and which policies are most supportive of efficient transfer? Together, these studies advance the literature on college transfer by providing robust measures of transfer credit efficiency, as well as estimates of the cost-savings of earning a bachelor’s degree for community college transfer students and of the benefits of reverse transfer. Finally, given the proliferation in the past decade of statewide policy to increase the efficiency of credit transfer, the panel will shed much needed light on the role of state policy in optimizing student transfer.