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Students Who Transfer Between Oregon Community Colleges and Oregon University System Institutions: What the Data Say

Executive Summary

This report provides a follow-up to the 1999 "Plan for Course and Credit Transfer Between Oregon Community Colleges and Oregon University System Institutions" by specifically responding to its call for "ongoing data-collection and research efforts." Specifically, the purposes of this report are to:

  • summarize the results of four years of data-matching efforts by the Oregon University System and the Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development,
  • discuss the implications of these data for policymakers as well as institutional practitioners, and
  • provide the context for these recent Oregon transfer-student data by offering a review of current and relevant research literature and outlining the dominant topics in the student-transfer arena.


The belief: Students move in a lockstep fashion from high school to community college to baccalaureate-granting institution.

The data and research say...

  • In a transcript analysis of 504 students enrolled in the four public postsecondary institutions in the Portland area, over three-fourths of all students fell within one of seven dominant patterns of attendance, but overall 74 different patterns of enrollment were identified.
  • About 1,100 students were enrolled in both a community college and an OUS institution each term during the 1997-98 academic year. These dual enrollments are assumed to be on the rise with the increasing number of programs encouraging such student behavior.
  • A "swirling dynamic" was identified at Arizona's community colleges and four-year institutions.
  • Ten identifiable community college attendance patterns were identified in data from the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 (with 12,332 students in the sample).

The belief: Community college students experience significant credit loss when they transfer to a four-year campus.

The data and research say...

  • In 1997-98, the average number of credits transferred in to an OUS institution by AA/OT recipients was 99. (A minimum of 90 credits is required for the AA/OT degree.)
  • In a transcript-analysis study in Oregon, the average number of credits earned by transfer students at a Portland metropolitan area community college was slightly over 91; of these, about 83% (76 credits) were accepted by Portland State University.
    • The reasons for non-acceptance of credits included: low grade, developmental/remedial-level coursework, professional-technical coursework, duplicate course, and over maximum number of credits allowed for transfer.
    • Credit loss may be seen as "a function of non-transferable credits being submitted to the university."

The belief: The number of students transferring to a four-year campus from a community college is declining.

The data and research say...

  • In Oregon, between 1996-97 and 1998-99, the number of community college students transferring to Oregon University System institutions increased slightly.
  • In California and Washington, between 1996-97 and 1998-99, the number of admitted community college transfers declined slightly.
  • In 1998-99, 11,595 OUS students had attended a community college the previous year, up 7% (from 10,820) the previous year.
  • In 1998-99, 1,037 OUS students earned an Associate of Arts/Oregon Transfer (AA/OT) degree the previous year.
    • The 1,037 AA/OT transfers represent:
      • 9% of "all transfers" in 1998-99
      • 28% of admitted transfers
      • 54% of all AA/OTs awarded the previous year.

The belief: Community college transfer students generally demonstrate lower academic performance than students who begin at a four-year campus.

The data and research say...

  • "Transfer shock" is the term used to designate the presumed drop in grade point average (GPA) of a community college student after transferring to a four-year institution; evidence supporting this notion is mixed.
  • Before-and-after comparisons of Oregon community college transfer student GPAs are unavailable; however, in 1998-99, the GPA of Oregon community college transfer students in all OUS courses was 2.94. First-time freshmen had a GPA of 2.80 and other transfer students had a GPA of 3.06.
  • A similar trend in GPAs was noted when data were analyzed in various discipline-to-discipline comparisons. More specifically, community college transfers generally outperform first-time freshmen and lag slightly behind other transfer students.

The belief: Community college students in general, as well as community college students of color, persist and graduate at lower rates than students who begin at a four-year campus.

The data and research say...

  • Oregon community college transfer students overall (who come to OUS with 45 to 89 transferable hours), complete their programs with a six-year graduation rate of about 62%. First-time freshmen who persist through one year of college-level work have a six-year graduation rate of 65-68%.
  • Black, Native American, and Hispanic students, whether community college transfers or students who originally started at a four-year campus, graduate at lower rates than Caucasian and Asian American students, though small sample sizes may lead to an unclear picture of what is actually happening in this area.


The Oregon data-match project is still in its infancy. Data-collection efforts need to be continued and expanded in order to make more informed policy decisions in the area of articulation and transfer. The important recommendations from this study include:

  • Follow-up on students in Oregon who earn the Associate of Arts/Oregon Transfer degree should be enhanced, to include tracking of these students more than one year past their degree (and possibly gathering information about those students who choose to not attend a four-year institution to see how their degrees are being utilized).

  • Data-collection efforts should be expanded to include follow-up on students by academic major pursued after transfer. The academic programs in which transfer students enroll may be able to inform curricular decisions at the campus level in both sectors.

  • Data-collection efforts on students simultaneously enrolled in two-year and four-year campuses should be expanded. These students are so enrolled as part of official programs as well as by individual student choice. Not enough is known about these students at this time to make well-informed policy decisions.

  • Oregon University System and Oregon community college administrators and data experts should work together to develop the (legal and ethical) means to track the success of individual students (and small student cohorts) after they transfer. Such tracking is currently problematic given laws that address students' rights to privacy; nonetheless, such information would be helpful in making campus decisions that could affect the success of future generations of transfer students.

To obtain a full copy of this report, contact Jim Arnold, P.O. Box 3175, Eugene, OR 97403; ph: 541-346-5722; <jim_arnold@ous.edu>.

This page was last updated November 30, 2000

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