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Over One-Third of College Students Transfer At Least Once

Almost Half of Them Transfer More Than Once

HERNDON, VA, JULY 7, 2015 – Of the 3.6 million students who entered college for the first time in fall 2008, over one third (37.2 percent) transferred to a different institution at least once within six years. Of these, almost half changed their institution more than once. Counting multiple moves, the students made 2.4 million transitions from one institution to another from 2008 to 2014.

This latest Signature Report, Transfer & Mobility: A National View of Student Movement in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2008 Cohort, is the most recent in a series of reports on student transfer and mobility since 2012 from the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™.

The role played by community colleges in students’ pathways to completion is evident, even though the students often do not earn associate’s degrees. Nearly a quarter of the students who started at a community college transferred to a four-year institution within six years. Yet, only 3.2 percent of this cohort, roughly one in eight of those who transferred, did so after receiving a credential from their starting institution, either a certificate or an associate’s degree. The vast majority transferred without a degree.

This proportion has shrunk from the Research Center’s first transfer and mobility report, released in 2012. That report, which looked at students who started in fall 2006, found that one in five transfers from two-year to four-year institutions were post-degree. The higher proportion of students transferring without an associate’s degree may create a growing case for reverse transfer initiatives currently being pursued in many states. These initiatives facilitate the transfer of student credits back to two-year institutions that may be able to award a degree.

The Clearinghouse earlier reported that, through reverse transfer, as many as two million eligible students could receive associate degrees.

Other findings include:

  • Student mobility often involves out-of-state transfers. Nearly one in five transfers among students who started in two-year public institutions, and nearly a quarter of transfers from four-year public institutions, occurred across state lines.
  • Mixed enrollment students (those who enrolled both full- and part-time) had the highest transfer and mobility rates at 53.7 percent. Changing institutions and changing enrollment statuses both appear to be strategies that students employ in reaction to their changing circumstances.
  • Exclusively part-time students, who are typically more geographically constrained and most likely to stop out of college altogether, had the lowest transfer rate (11.9 percent).
  • Two-year public institutions are the top mobility destination for students who start in four-year institutions. More than half (51.3 percent) of those transferring from a four-year public institution moved to a two-year public institution. Over 40 percent of those who transferred from four-year private institutions headed to community colleges.
  • A quarter of all student mobility from four-year institutions to community colleges consisted of summer swirlers, who returned to their starting institution in the following 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.

“The picture of postsecondary student mobility becomes more complex the closer we look, “stated Dr. Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, Research, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “These data will help institutions and policymakers to develop better tools for serving mobile students and keeping them on the path to degrees.”

About the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. The Research Center collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers. Through accurate longitudinal data outcomes reporting, the Research Center enables better educational policy decisions leading to improved student outcomes.

To learn more, visit http://research.studentclearinghouse.org.

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Signature 13 Report Tracking Transfer: Measures of Effectiveness in Helping Community College Students to Complete Bachelor's Degrees