Community colleges and upward mobility

Below is a map identifying colleges operating in education deserts, or commuting zones where there are either: a) zero public colleges or b) a single community college is the only broad-access public option. This definition gives a useful but certainly not comprehensive view into communities around the country where prospective students’ choices are most constrained.

(Tableau page here)

But I do not believe that having fewer choices necessarily means students’ outcomes will be poor. It certainly may, but this is an empirical question that I don’t think has been closely examined. It turns out, I’m finding community colleges located in these deserts have higher than average mobility rates. And this is even after controlling for the local community zone mobility rate and a rich set of college-level covariates (including transfer-out graduation rates).

This is from my ongoing work for an upcoming conference at William & Mary on higher education and social mobility. For that conference, I’ll be presenting preliminary findings from what I’ve learned after merging IPEDS, Scorecard, and mobility report card data. I’m still sorting through it all, but it seems pretty consistent with Chetty et al’s findings that open-access colleges (especially when they’re the only public game in town) have high mobility rates.

I wanted to share this map to see if anybody notices anything strange. IPEDS and Scorecard don’t include satellite campuses and in some cases they merge campuses to central offices that may artificially result in a desert due to reporting issues. For example, Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community Colleges stopped reporting campus-level data in 2011 when they centralized their Program Participation Agreement, meaning it looks like the only Ivy Tech is in Indianapolis when we know they’re located all over the state. I’ve tried to adjust for some of the big problems like this one, but am still fine-tuning others (e.g., cleaning up some of the exclusively online colleges, etc.).

Feedback welcome!