ERIC Identifier: ED261754
Publication Date: 1985-08-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.

Assessing Student Degree Aspirations. ERIC Digest.

Nationwide, over 75 percent of full-time community college freshmen claim that they plan on earning a baccalaureate or higher degree. However, follow-up studies at the national level reveal that nine years after enrolling in a community college, less than 25 percent earn a bachelor's degree (Astin 1983).

Why the large discrepancy between the number of community college students who say they want to earn a bachelor's degree and the actual number who attain the baccalaureate? A recent survey of students in transfer courses at 22 urban community colleges indicates that part of the answer to this question lies in the inadequacy of self-reported degree aspirations. This ERIC Digest reviews the methodology and findings of this survey and discusses implications.


During Spring 1984, the Center for the Study of Community Colleges surveyed 2,957 students in randomly selected course sections at 22 colleges participating in the Ford Foundation's Urban Community Colleges Transfer Opportunities Program. The course sections involved in the survey were identified as eligible for transfer credit to a four-year college. Of those students surveyed, 1,750 responded; responses from students who had already earned a bachelor's degree were removed from the sample, leaving the data from 1,613 students for subsequent analysis.

Among other items, the survey instrument solicited information on (1) the highest degree that students plan to attain, (2) their primary reasons for attending college, (3) student attitudes (i.e., predisposition) toward transfer; and (4) student transfer behaviors (i.e., the actions taken by students to prepare for successful transfer). Findings, discussed below, reveal that while a large percentage of students said they planned to attain a baccalaureate, smaller proportions demonstrated the attitudes and behaviors that are indicative of transfer success.


Of the respondents, 74 percent indicated that they planned to attain a baccalaureate or higher degree. When asked to indicate their primary reason for attending college, however, only 54 percent indicated transfer to a four-year college or university. Many (31.9 percent) were attending primarily to gain occupational skills; 8.3 percent indicated occupational advancement; and 6.6 percent indicated personal interest. Age, attendance status, sex, and number of credits completed were found to be significantly related to student goals. Preparing for transfer was more likely to be given as a reason for attending college by full-time male students who were of traditional college age.


The survey instrument included five Likert-type items which asked the student about the relative importance of transfer:

--Transferring to a four-year college is not that important to me. (Desired response: strong disagreement or disagreement.)

--Transferring to a four-year college is too far off in the future to worry about it now. (Desired response: strong disagreement or disagreement.)

--If I don't transfer to a four-year college, I will feel disappointed. (Desired response: strong disagreement or disagreement.)

--Transfer courses are not very useful because you don't learn any practical skills (Desired response: strong disagreement or disagreement.)

--For me, getting a job is more important than transferring to a four-year college (Desired response: strong disagreement or disagreement.)

Depending on the individual responses to the five items, students were given a score of five or a score of four when they provided one of the two desired responses, a three for neutral, and a two or one for the undesired response (for example, for item one, strong disagreement = 5; disagreement = 4; neutral = 3; agreement = 2; and strong agreement = 1). To determine the cut-off points delineating high versus low transfer attitudes, it was decided that a student should score at least 20 to be classified as having high transfer attitudes; anyone with a score of less than 20 was placed into the low attitude group.

Of the 1,532 students who were included in the analysis, 672 or 44 percent fell into the high transfer attitude category. While not all of these students indicated that they aspire to a B.A. or indicated preparation for transfer as their primary reason for attending college, they were nonetheless included in the analysis because it was considered important to calculate a measure of the actual proportion of community college students who have high and low transfer attitudes. Among students who aspired to a B.A. or higher degree, the proportion exhibiting high transfer attitudes was 54 percent, ten percentage points higher than for the sample as a whole.


The survey instrument also assessed student actions in preparation for transfer:

--TRANSFER KNOWLEDGE: a composite of three items that asked the student to indicate the sources used to determine transferability of courses taken in the community college. The three possible sources of information were: (a) catalog/course schedule; (b) counselors; (c) making inquiries of a four-year college. Because the student could check as many choices as applicable, the highest possible score for this item was 3.

--COURSE TRANSFERABILITY: Students were asked to list the courses they enrolled in during Spring 1984 and to indicate for each whether they knew if the course was transferable. This item was scored on the basis of the number of courses listed. For instance, if a student was taking four courses and she/he knew the transfer eligibility for all four, his or her score would be a four. In order not to penalize students who were taking fewer courses, the scores were standardized.

--TRANSFER PLANNING: A composite of four items asked students who planned on transferring if they had (a) requested catalog(s) and application form(s) from colleges and universities; (b) asked counselor(s) for information about the colleges' requirements for transfer applicants; (c) visited the colleges; and (d) completed and submitted transfer applications. The highest possible score on this item was 4.

--TRANSFER INFORMATION: An item which asked students whether they had sought information on transfer opportunities from the counseling office frequently, occasionally, or rarely. The highest possbile score in this item was three.

The cut-off point selected to differentiate high versus low transfer behaviors was 11; that is, students scoring 11 or higher were classified as measuring high on transfer behaviors. This cut-off point was determined as follows: for item one, a student should have scored at least 2 out of 3 possible points; for item two, a student should have a perfect score (four points); for item three, the score should be at least a 2 out of a possible 4; and for the last item, the student should score a 3.

Of 1,542 students who responded to the items in the measure, 192 or 12 percent were classified as having high transfer behaviors. Among students who aspire to a B.A. or higher degree, 16 percent exhibited high transfer behaviors.


The students who fell into the high transfer attitudes and high transfer behavior categories clearly show the highest predisposition to transfer. An analysis of characterisitics of these students indicates that number of credits earned, attendance status, and age appear to be related to changes in transfer attitudes and behaviors. Students with high transfer attitudes and behaviors are concentrated among those who have completed 45 to 59 units, who are attending full-time, and who are of traditional college age. Significantly, of those students who indicated that they wanted to attain a Bachelor's degree or a graduate degree, only 48.4 percent and 69.2 percent (respectively) demonstrated high transfer attitudes; only 12.8 percent and 22.7 percent demonstrated high transfer behaviors.


As the above findings indicate, the self-reported degree aspirations of community college students may not always be good discriminators of transfer potential. Though students may say they plan on earning a B.A. or higher degree, many give reasons other than transfer for having enrolled in college. Also, many baccalaureate aspirants do not demonstrate attitudes and behaviors helpful to transfer success. Consequently, community colleges concerned with the identification of potential transfer students at the point of entry need to collect other data besides planned degree attainment.


Cohen, A. M., F. B. Brawer, and E. M. Bensimon. TRANSFER EDUCATION IN AMERICAN COMMUNITY COLLEGES. Los Angeles, CA: Center for the Study of Community Colleges, 1985.

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