, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 1-20

Bachelor’s Degree Completion Across State Contexts: Does the Distribution of Enrollments Make a Difference?

Abstract

Growing accountability pressures, accompanied by a lack of readily accessible measures of institutional performance, have led to an increasing focus on graduation rates. Although previous research has illuminated myriad factors influencing students’ likelihood of educational success, it has not paid adequate attention to how state contexts may shape student outcomes. I build on the small but growing body of research exploring the role of state characteristics in facilitating student success in higher education. Controlling for a range of state and individual attributes, I examine how one aspect of the state context––the distribution of enrollments in 2 vs. 4-year public institutions––is related to bachelor’s degree attainment of students attending public 4-year colleges and universities. The results suggest that the larger the proportion of students attending community colleges in a state, the higher the probability of bachelor’s degree attainment at public 4-year institutions. This appears to be a product of student sorting: the presence of community colleges facilitates sorting of students into higher education in a way that is associated with higher degree completion at public 4-year institutions. These findings have important implications for research on student outcomes and policies aimed at evaluating the performance of public 4-year institutions.