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Analysis: Traditional Transfer Students in the Minority

Traditional transfer students, those who attend community college or some other starter school, then move to a public institution to get their bachelor degrees, make up 19 percent — just a fifth — of all transfer students. These students are primarily driven by cost — wanting to keep the price of college as low as possible, according to research by Eduventures. But there are many other types of transfer students who are motivated differently. By understanding what moves them, colleges can improve their engagement, the higher education advisory firm recently stated.

In a brief analysis, Senior Analyst Johanna Trovato laid out five types of transfer students besides the "cost saver":

  • The "follow the plan" student, which makes up 17 percent of the transfer population. These individuals are tracking along the plan they've set, which is to get into a school that's more rigorous but also "likely to accept them";
  • The "find my passion" student (2 percent), who wants a school that delivers a specific program or that's in a particular location;
  • The "help wanted" student (12 percent), who is seeking better support from his or her institution as well as more flexibility;
  • The "trading up" student (17 percent), who wants "more prestige and rigor" while also cutting loose and moving "farther from home"; and
  • The "life happens" student (15 percent), who finds personal circumstances have changed and needs something more flexible or affordable.

Trovato laid the six types out on a spectrum, distinguished by "intentional" decision-making on one end and "circumstantial" on the other end. The cost savers are the most intentional with their decision-making; the life happens students are the most circumstantial.

As the analysis noted, while two-year and four-year students are well represented in all of the transfer types, "those at two-year schools are often following a well-thought-out plan, while students at four-year schools are more often driven by dissatisfaction with their current situations."

Eduventures' advice for improving a school's prospects for wooing and winning transfer students is twofold. First, colleges and universities need to make sure they understand which types of transfer students are enrolling already, to increase efforts to draw more who are similarly motivated and to identify the transfer types being missed. Second, it may be time to examine "transfer messaging." There may be "relevant messages" missing in outreach efforts.

The full article is openly available on the Encoura/Eduventures website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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