The Community College Pipeline

The notion that community colleges are key to putting students on a path to a four-year degree is not a new one; large numbers of Americans begin their postsecondary studies at two-year colleges, and transfer is one of the institutions' traditional functions. But new data from the National Student Clearinghouse show just how prevalent a role two-year institutions play in providing an educational foundation for those who go on to get bachelor's degrees.

The study — one of a series on student mobility that the clearinghouse has begun producing to capitalize on the unique data it collects as a repository of student-level information from more than 3,000 colleges — reveals that 45 percent of all students who finished a four-year degree in 2010-11 had previously enrolled at a two-year college.

Of those students, 24 percent had been enrolled at the two-year institution for just one term, 16 percent for two terms, and 19 percent for three or four terms. But a full 12 percent were enrolled for at least 10 terms, suggesting that even students who spend a significant length of time at a community college might eventually go on to a four-year college.

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