50 Best Schools for Transferring From Community College to University

 October 10, 2019
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Transferring From Community College to University

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There’s no debating the fact that community college tuition is significantly lower than that of public and private four-year universities.

The question is whether some two-year institutions are better than others at preparing their students to pursue bachelor’s or advanced degrees elsewhere.

To determine which of our pool of 513 community and junior college across the country do it best, we focused on two key factors: graduation rates and transfer rates. Schools that topped our list were those which awarded more diplomas — or saw more transfers to a four-year university — within a student’s first three years of study.

Key findings

  • Marion Military Institute in Marion, Ala., topped the list of students who transfer or who earn an associate’s degree that can be used for credit at four-year schools. Among students who enrolled in 2014, 89% achieved one of these goals within three years: 55% transferred out (the highest transfer rate on our list) and another 34% graduated.
  • Dawson Community College in Glendive, Mont., and Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, N.C., rounded out the top three, with 79% and 78% of students, respectively, transferring or graduating with a degree within three years.
  • Students in Minnesota who want to save money by starting off in community college are in luck: 7 of the 50 best community colleges on our list are in this state.
  • Students in the Carolinas also have some great options, with North Carolina and South Carolina boasting four schools apiece on our list.
  • Mississippi and Alabama also each have four schools in our top 50.

Top five schools for moving from community college to university

We reviewed data for 513 schools, ranked the strongest 50, and here are the top five. These community colleges were the very best we found at preparing their students for the next step, whether that’s transferring to a four-year school or turning an associate’s degree into a budding career.

1. Marion Military Institute (Marion, Ala.)

Undergraduate enrollment: 446
Average net cost of attendance after awards: $11,999
Students transferring out: 55%
Students earning an associate’s degree or certificate: 34%

One of four military junior colleges in the U.S., Marion turns out civilian professionals too — 2 of 5 cadets leaving school will pursue a career outside the armed services.

A national-high 55% of Marion students go on to attend a four-year school. Marion encourages matriculation by offering scholarships to high-performing students who enroll at several nearby universities: Alabama, Auburn, Troy and Mississippi State.

At close to $12,000 to attend, Marion is far from the cheapest community college, but its high transfer and graduation rates are hard to argue against.

2. Dawson Community College (Glendive, Mont.)

Undergraduate enrollment: 329
Average net cost of attendance after awards: $10,364
Students transferring out: 42%
Students earning an associate’s degree or certificate: 37%

With 79% of its alumni moving on, the smallish Dawson Community College came in second overall on our list.

Thanks to its enrollment of 329, it promises smaller class sizes and greater access to its faculty, among other advantages. Dawson has also created so-called “2+2 agreements” with regional schools, providing help transferring to them for bachelor’s degree studies.

3. Catawba Valley Community College (Hickory, N.C.)

Undergraduate enrollment: 4,827
Average net cost of attendance after awards: $8,583
Students transferred out: 50%
Students earned an associate’s degree or certificate: 28%

With a significantly larger student body than the first two schools, Catawba Valley describes itself as “a great place to begin a four-year degree.” It has agreements in place with 13 North Carolina schools to help its alumni transition to a bigger campus.

Those agreements appear to be working, since data show that roughly half of all Catawba Valley students will eventually transfer to another school.

4. (tie) Carteret Community College (Morehead City, N.C.)

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,536
Average net cost of attendance after awards: $17,469
Students transferring out: 33%
Students earning an associate’s degree or certificate: 43%

The second of four North Carolina-based schools to crack our top 50, Carteret leans more heavily toward graduating its students rather than seeing them transfer, with about 43% earning an associate’s degree before deciding on the next step of their education.

Carteret features an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Despite its limited size, however, the school houses 35 programs for degrees, diplomas and certificates.

4. (tie) Pierce College (Puyallup, Wash.)

Undergraduate enrollment: 4,590
Average net cost of attendance after awards: $8,419
Students transferring out: 46%
Students earning an associate’s degree or certificate: 30%

Although it appears to emphasize transferring (46%) over degree-earning (30%), Pierce drew the same 76% combined score needed to tie Carteret Community College among our top five.

Pierce stands out because it also offers students a two-year path toward a bachelor’s degree in teaching, business management, dental hygiene and homeland security emergency management.

Consider attending a high-performing two-year school

A Student Loan Hero study last year found that those pursuing a bachelor’s degree could save an average of $11,377 by attending a community college for the first two years.

If you’re considering that route, judge two-year schools on their track record of transferring or graduating students off campus and onward to bigger and better things.

According to our data (see our full ranking of all 513 institutions here) there’s a significant difference between top- and bottom-performing community and junior colleges.

As you build your college list, consider the price tag too: Our study shows that the net cost of attendance at two-year schools can vary from $1,067 to all the way up to $18,682.

Your school selection will likely be the result of a cost-benefit analysis — the very real cost to attend versus the potential benefit of moving into a four-year school.

If you find yourself wanting to attend a higher-priced two-year school because it could lead to the degree and career you desire, study up on financial aid options. Before considering student loans for community college, talk to your financial aid office and rack up as many scholarships and other gift aid as you can.

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