Using Data Mining to Explore Why Community College Transfer Students Earn Bachelor’s Degrees With Excess Credits
Community college transfer students encounter challenges progressing toward a bachelor’s degree, leading to widespread transfer credit loss. This in turn may lower students’ chances of credential completion and increase the time and costs for students, their families, and taxpayers.
This study reviews review three definitions of credit transfer inefficiency—credit transferability, credit applicability, and excess credits among completers—focusing on the last to examine why community college transfer students often end up with excess credits that do not count toward a bachelor’s degree. The authors use student transcript data from two state systems to examine the course-taking behaviors of community college transfer students who earn bachelor’s degrees with numerous excess credits and with few excess credits. Data-mining techniques enable them to examine a large number of variables that could explain the variation in students’ excess credits at graduation, including not only student demographics but also the types and timing of courses taken.
Overall, more excess credits are associated with several factors, including taking larger proportions of 100- and 200-level courses and smaller proportions of 300-level courses throughout students’ progression toward completion, and taking 100-level courses in any subject—and specifically in math—immediately after transferring to a four-year institution. Findings suggest that institutions could help reduce credit transfer inefficiency by encouraging students to explore and choose a bachelor’s degree major early on so they can take the required lower division (100- and 200-level) courses at the community college and take mostly upper division 300- and 400-level courses in their desired major field once they transfer to a four-year institution.
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