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Examining the Relationship Between 2-year College Entry and Baccalaureate Aspirants’ Academic and Labor Market Outcomes: Impacts, Heterogeneity, and Mechanisms

Abstract

Using the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002), this paper analyzes students’ baccalaureate attainment and early labor market performance, comparing 2-year college and 4-year institution entrants and exploring the potential heterogeneous treatment effects of initiating one’s college experience in a 2-year college by individual pre-college academic preparation. Utilizing propensity score matching on a rich set of student demographic characteristics, academic and high school attributes, we find that 2-year college entry sharply reduces baccalaureate aspirants’ likelihood of earning a baccalaureate, and such negative effects are particularly pronounced for students in the highest quartile of pre-college math ability. In terms of labor market outcomes, female 2-year college entrants are less likely to gain full-time employment, as compared to their female 4-year institution counterparts. We also examine various mechanisms that may hinder 2-year college entrants’ baccalaureate completion, including the impact of 2-year college attendance on early academic progress, challenges of the transfer process, loss of credits at the point of transfer, and post-transfer academic shock. Our results provide suggestive evidence in support of all four mechanisms.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Information retrieved from https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/college-costs/college-costs-faqs.

  2. 2.

    It is worth noting that 12% of the college-going students in the ELS:2002 data started taking courses at either a 2-year or 4-year institution through dual enrollment while they were still enrolled in high school. As a robustness check, we include these students in the analytical sample and run all main analyses. We include the results in Appendix Table 10. As shown in Appendix Table 10, results remain consistent with this sample.

  3. 3.

    The majority of the control variables have a missing rate below 6%. We use a dummy variable adjustment to missing data, which is a commonly used approach (Allison 2002). More specifically, we plug in a value for missing data, typically 0 for dichotomous variables or the variable’s mean if the variable is continuous. We then include in the regression a dummy variable coded as 1 if data in the original variable was missing and 0 otherwise.

  4. 4.

    In a separate robustness check, we also extend the follow-up window to 2013, or 9 years post initial college enrollment, and the estimated baccalaureate attainment gaps between 2-year and 4-year college entrants remain fairly similar.

  5. 5.

    For all models where the outcome variable is a labor market measure, we include the regional unemployment rate as an additional control variable. We retrieved information about where each respondent lived in 2012, when employment status was measured. Specifically, this information included the census region where the respondent lived (i.e., northeast, midwest, south, and west). In our analyses, we use the seasonal unemployment rate for each region retrieved from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS).

  6. 6.

    We include in all models a “first-term” fixed effects which is a set of control variables that indicate the specific time when a student first entered college (e.g., fall 2004). We include this variable to account for unobserved heterogeneity that arise from students starting college at different points in time, such as an economic shock that happened during a certain time that may influence both students’ college choice and subsequent academic outcomes.

  7. 7.

    We use psmatch2 software for Stata by Leuven and Sianesi (2003) to implement the propensity score matching procedure. For all analyses by gender subgroup, the matching procedure is conducted for male and female students separately.

  8. 8.

    Specifically, we run a regression of outcome on the treatment indicator and confounding covariates (Eq. 1) using weights (generated by using psmatch2) to force the sample to represent matched groups (1 if in treatment group, 0 if not matched, and # times matched for matched controls).

  9. 9.

    For all outcome measures, we estimated treatment effects for a restricted sample of students who completed 24 or more credits during college. We do this to assess whether our results are sensitive to a sample of relatively motivated students. 24 credits represent 1-year of full-time course work and serves as an indicator of being “on-track” to earn a degree and/or transfer. Restricting the sample in this way alleviates concerns about whether there are unobservable characteristics such as motivation not captured in our matching strategy. As shown in Appendix Table 9, the results based on the restricted sample are consistent in both magnitude and statistical significance.

  10. 10.

    We include an additional table Appendix Table 12 that shows the interaction between the estimated effects of 2-year college entrance and students’ math ability, using the least-prepared students—i.e., those who scored in the lowest math quartile—as the reference group.

  11. 11.

    We use a standardized measure of postsecondary credits attempted and earned.

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Acknowledgements

The research reported here was supported by the American Educational Research Association, through Grant 78089 to University of California, Irvine. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the American Educational Research Association. Any errors are our own.

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Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13.

Table 9 Impact of initiating in a 2-year college on student baccalaureate attainment and labor market outcomes (restricted sample)
Table 10 Impact of initiating in a 2-year college on student baccalaureate attainment and labor market outcomes (including dual enrollment students)
Table 11 Impact of initiating in a 2-year college on student baccalaureate attainment and labor market outcomes (using region of residence fixed effects)
Table 12 Impact of initiating in a 2-year college on student baccalaureate attainment and labor market outcomes, by student math ability (matched sample)
Table 13 Sensitivity analysis for unobserved heterogeneity

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Xu, D., Solanki, S. & Harlow, A. Examining the Relationship Between 2-year College Entry and Baccalaureate Aspirants’ Academic and Labor Market Outcomes: Impacts, Heterogeneity, and Mechanisms. Res High Educ 61, 297–329 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-019-09559-7

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Keywords

  • Vertical transfer
  • Propensity score matching
  • Labor market outcomes
  • Heterogeneous impacts
  • Mechanisms