Upward transfers increase

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More community college students this fall have transferred to four-year institutions than last year, although other types of transfers, such as community college-to-community college or university-to-community college, have declined, according to preliminary survey findings from the National Students Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center.

Traditional upward transfers among community college students have increased 2.6% compared to last fall, while the number of reverse transfers (university students transferring to two-year colleges) fell 18.4%, as did lateral transfers (-8.3%) and a 10.8% drop among “summer swirlers” – four-year college students who take community college courses in the summer.

The findings are based on preliminary data reported to the center as of September 24 by 54% of Title IV degree-granting institutions that provide data to NSC.

Uneven increases

Even though the increase in upward transfers is promising for community college students seeking a bachelor’s degree, it was uneven across different student subgroups, with male students, Black students and adult learners falling further behind other demographics, the center noted.

Education advocates laud the increases among traditional transfers. The boost indicates a “strengthening of the pipeline” toward a baccalaureate, said Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the NSC Research Center. But he noted that it adds to the enrollment challenges for community colleges, which already face massive drops in enrollment among new and returning students.

Related article: Community college enrollment plummets

Although researchers don’t know yet what has prompted the upward transfer increases, it may be, in part, due to more four-year institutions easing the process for transfer students, Shapiro said.

“It’s opening up opportunities for community college students that they might not have had before,” Shapiro said.

It also appears more community college students are making the shift without first attaining an associate degree. Overall, the increase in upward transfers from two-year colleges was led by students transferring from a community college without an associate degree, who saw a 6.9 percent growth over last year. Meanwhile, students transferring with an associate degree decreased by 7.4 percent. Currently, seven out of 10 upward transfers (72.7%) are without an associate degree, according to the report.

A look at race, gender

The first-look report also shows differences among races, although Shapiro cautioned the figures might shift slightly as more colleges report their numbers. Still, the data show an increase in the number of continuing Asian and White students who transferred (18.7% and 1.8%, respectively), while the rate for Black students dropped slightly (-0.2%). All three racial/ethnic groups saw declines in upward transfers in 2019, the center noted. Hispanic students continued to see an increase among continuing students who transferred upwards, a 5.6% jump this fall compared to a 0.2% increase last fall.

The number of women transferring to a four-year college (+6.9%) increased more than men (+1.1%) over last year, following decreases for both women (-1.3%) and men (-2%) in the previous year, according to the report.

Fewer returning students

The NSC Research Center also examined students who have continually enrolled compared to returning students, meaning those who left college for a term or two and then re-enrolled.

Except for community colleges – which saw a 5.4% decrease – all other institution sectors saw slight increases of 1.3% to 2% in continuing enrollment this fall.

The percentage of returning students this fall declined by double digits at all types of colleges and universities, except at private, for-profit four-year institutions, where 4.1% more returning students enrolled this fall, according to the report. Public two-year colleges saw a 17.9% drop among returning students.

The figures have surprised education advocates who expected increases in the number of returning two-year colleges due to poor job prospects during the pandemic. Many also expected to see more four-year college students opt to attend community college this fall because of the pandemic.

Ascendium Education Group and the ECMC Foundation are supporting the study. The center plans to release an updated report in December.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.