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IES Grant

Title: The Transfer of College Credits Earned in High School
Center: NCER Year: 2023
Principal Investigator: Edmunds, Julie Awardee: University of North Carolina, Greensboro
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2023 – 06/30/2027) Award Amount: $1,699,825
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A230404

Co-Principal Investigators: Jaeger, Audrey; Mulhern, Christine; Phillips, Brian

Purpose: This exploration project will examine the extent to which college credits earned in high school are transferred to a postsecondary institution and applied to a degree or major. This project addresses the problem that although many students are attaining college-level credits during high school with the goal of getting a head start on their postsecondary education, they do not always graduate from postsecondary institutions as quickly as the number of earned credits would allow.

This exploration project will examine four key factors that may be associated with successful credit transfer between high schools, community colleges, and universities:

  1. number and types of credits students earn and are seeking to transfer
  2. type and location of credit-bearing program
  3. credit transfer policies
  4. major and degree types

The research team will also explore students' and advisors' perceptions of the transfer experience to understand where there might be challenges in transferring college credits earned in high school.

Project Activities: The research team will analyze a large statewide administrative dataset. They will obtain detailed transcript data from colleges and universities to explore patterns in credits earned, credits transferred, and credits applied. They will also collect qualitative data to describe advising and students' experiences relative to credit transfer.

Products: The research team will produce an advising toolkit that summarizes key findings from the project about credit transfer. They will share their findings with colleges and system leaders and disseminate information through websites and professional networks. The team will also develop briefs and articles that summarize findings from the administrative and transcript analyses.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The project examines college-level credits earned in North Carolina high schools.

Population/Sample: The full sample for this project will be an estimated 320,000 public high school students who have earned and are seeking to transfer college-level credits from high school to 2- or 4-year postsecondary institutions. The cohorts will include students who entered ninth grade from 2007–08 through 2019–20.

Factors: The project will distinguish between college credits that are earned, those that are transferred to another institution, and those that are then applied to a student's major or degree in the second institution. Overall, the project will examine four primary factors associated with successful earning, transfer, and application of credits:

  1. number and types of credits students earn and are seeking to transfer
  2. type and location of institution where credits are earned and to which credits are being transferred
  3. credit transfer policies, including a statewide articulation agreement intended to improve the transfer of community college courses to 4-year institutions
  4. students' college majors and degree goals.

The project will also explore students' and advisors' perceptions of the transfer experience to understand where there might be challenges in transferring college credits earned in high school.

Research Design and Methods: The project includes three complementary studies, each with different datasets. The first study will use statewide administrative data to examine credits earned, the number transferred, and the impact of a statewide articulation agreement on credits transferred. This study will use a comparative interrupted time series to examine the impact of the launch of the articulation agreement. The second study will be a detailed transcript study focused on descriptively understanding the specific types of credits transferred and the extent to which those have been applied to majors or degree plans, using transcript data from three community colleges and three universities. The third study will look qualitatively at advising and other factors that students and staff identify as being associated with transfer of credits.

Comparison Condition: For the statewide study of the impact of the articulation agreement, the comparison group consists of students who enrolled in a University of North Carolina (UNC) system institution before the articulation agreement was in place, and students who enrolled in a UNC system institution after high school but did not earn dual enrollment credits in high school. The descriptive analysis includes a comparison of postsecondary outcomes for students with different levels of credits, while limiting the sample to students who earned some college-level credits in high school. For other descriptive analyses and for the qualitative study, there is no comparison condition.

Key Measures: The statewide study will look at college credits earned in high school, the number of credits transferred, and the following education outcomes: enrolling in upper level of courses, enrolling in multiple majors/minors, attaining a postsecondary degree, time to degree, and amount of student loan debt. Moderators will include student characteristics, type of credits, majors/type of degree, and high school and college type. The transcript study will look at the college credits earned in high school and the extent to which the credit fits into one of the following categories: accepted and applied to a major/degree program, accepted for general education credit, accepted for elective credit, and not accepted. This study will use the following outcomes: degree attainment, time to degree, and multiple majors/minors. The qualitative study will include interviews with advisors and students.

Data Analytic Strategy: The analyses for the statewide and transcript studies will be primarily descriptive and correlational in nature. Under the statewide study, the impact of the articulation agreement will utilize a CITS analysis. The qualitative data will be coded using inductive and deductive coding techniques.

Related IES Projects: The Evaluation of Career and College Promise (R305H190036)

This application was submitted to the FY 2022 Education Research Grants (84.305A) competition and awarded in FY 2023 when funds were available.