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College Transfers Hit CCs Hardest

COVID-19 hasn't just damaged new enrollment rates within most colleges and universities. According to a new report, transfer enrollment has shrunk too, by 4.7 percent overall compared to fall 2019. However, transfer rates varied wildly depending on the type of transfer being measured.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which did the analysis, studied four types of transfers or "student mobility":

  • Students in an "upward transfer" moved from a two-year school to a four-year school, with or without receiving an associate degree or certificate.
  • Students doing a "reverse transfer" shifted from a four-year school to a two-year school.
  • In a "lateral transfer," students moved from either a two-year school to a two-year school or a four-year school to a four-year school.
  • "Summer swirl" referred to students who enrolled in a different institution only during the summer and then returned in the fall to their original institution. In its analysis, NSC also referred to these are "continuing non-transfer students."

Upward transfers grew "unexpectedly" by 2.6 percent, while the number of reverse transfers fell by 18.4 percent. Lateral transfers shrank by 8.3 percent, and summer swirlers fell by 10.8 percent.

According to its new report, "COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility and Progress: First Look Fall 2020 Report," the rise in upward transfers was led by continuing students, those who have maintained their enrollment since the start of the pandemic. The report noted that most of those transfers were done without the students receiving associate degrees. There was also a bump in the number of students who chose to cross state lines for their transfers.

Students who pulled out of school prior to the outbreak were less likely to come back this fall, and less than half of the students who did come back transferred, NSC reported. Previously, former students returning to school after a "stop-out," as it's called, were on the rise, up 6.1 percent in fall 2019. This fall, the segment was down by 15.6 percent.

While the analysts said they would have expected an "influx" of students reverse-transferring out of four-year colleges and into community colleges, that didn't transpire. Instead, an "unusually high number" of students took upward transfers. While, overall, that was good news, the report stated, the results were "uneven" across student subgroups. Males, Black students and adult learners fell further behind.

Also, while four-year colleges may have been the beneficiaries of reverse transfers, that happened at the expense of community colleges, which are facing a "looming enrollment crisis." As the report noted, "The combination of higher upward transfer and lower reverse transfer adds up to a triple threat for further declines in the number of students enrolled in community colleges."

The full report is openly available on the NSC Research Center 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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