Transfer and Mobility: A National View of Student Movement in Postsecondary Institutions

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Author(s): The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) and the Project on Academic Success (PAS), Indiana University

  • Doug Shapiro – NSCRC
  • Afet Dundar – NSCRC
  • Faye Huie – NSCRC
  • Phoebe Khasiala Wakhungu – PAS
  • Ayesha Bhimdiwala – PAS
  • Angel Nathan – PAS
  • Youngsik Hwang – PAS

Published: Aug. 7, 2018

Report Intro/Brief:
“The fall 2011 cohort consisted of 2.8 million first-time students. Within their first six years, over one million of them continued their studies at a different institution, resulting in an overall transfer rate of 38.0 percent.

This report defines student transfer and mobility as any change in a student’s institution of enrollment irrespective of the timing, direction, or location of the move, and regardless of whether any credits were transferred from one institution to another. The transfer rate reported here considers the student’s first instance of movement to a different institution, before receiving a bachelor’s degree and within a period of six years. For those students who began at two-year public institutions, we also include transfers that happened after receiving a degree at the starting two-year institution.

This report analyzes student enrollment patterns across two-year and four-year, public and private institutions, and examines the distribution of transfers and mobility across state lines and over multiple years. For the first time, this report also includes transfer patterns disaggregated by race and ethnicity. This will not only provide insight into how various groups of students move through their post-secondary education, but also show how students from traditionally underrepresented groups navigate the pipeline in comparison to their peers.

Two-year institutions served almost 1.5 million students of the fall 2011 cohort, including those who started in two year institutions and those who transferred. This figure represents more than half of the entire fall 2011 cohort and all transfers, indicating that two-year institutions not only served most of the starting cohort, but most of the transfer population as well. However, many two year students who transfer from community colleges do so without a degree. Only 5.6 percent of this cohort transferred after receiving a credential from their starting institution, either a certificate or an associate’s degree. The vast majority transferred without a degree.

Other findings include:

  • Student mobility often involves out-of-state transfers. Out of all students who transferred, regardless of the starting institution, the out-of-state transfer rate for the fall 2011 cohort was 27.2 percent.
  • The transfer rate for students who started at a four-year institution, was slightly higher
    (38.5 percent) than for students who started at a two-year institution (37.1 percent). For those who started at a two-year public institution, 5.6 percent of students transferred after earning a degree at their starting institution.
  • The primary transfer destination for two-year starters was a four-year institution (50.5 percent of transfers) whereas the primary destination for four-year starters was a two-year institution (59.2 percent of transfers).
  • Out of all four to two-year transfers, over one in three were summer swirlers (36.2 percent), students who transferred from four-year institutions to community colleges and subsequently returned to their starting institution in the fall term. This strategy was found, in an earlier Clearinghouse report, to be correlated to higher degree completion rates at the starting four-year institution.
  • Among those who transferred from a two-year institution, Asian and White students were more likely to transfer to four-year institutions (49.8 percent and 50.4 percent, respectively) than Black and Hispanic students (33.2 percent and 39.5 percent, respectively).
  • Among those who transferred from a four-year to a two-year institution, Asian and White students were more likely to have done so during the summer only (45.6 percent and 40.6 percent, respectively) than Black and Hispanic students (26.5 percent and 32.8 percent, respectively).”

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