Transfers tumble, but upward transfers reverse course

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Overall, transfer enrollment at community colleges continues to be hit hardest by the pandemic, regardless of student group, gender, race and ethnicity or age. However, upward transfers from two-year to four-year institutions increased this spring, according to the newest spring 2021 enrollment report from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center.

The NSC Research Center has tracked an array of college data during the pandemic, including student transfers. It previously reported that, in fall 2020, community colleges saw a significant drop among transfer rates fall-to-fall. Community college transfers to four-year institutions were down -10.1%. The data showed that the adverse impacts fell disproportionately on Black and Hispanic students.

Overall transfer enrollment at community colleges declined -16.3% this spring, doubling last year’s decline of -8%, the center says. Reverse transfers saw an -18% drop from spring to spring, and lateral transfers saw a -12.6% decline. Transfer enrollment at community colleges fell considerably this spring relative to pre-pandemic declines for both continuing (-21.8% vs. -11.9%) and returning students (-11.1% vs. -4.1%).

However, upward transfers increased 1.5% this spring after last spring’s pre-pandemic -5.5% decline, according to the report. Upward transfers comprised 34.2% of all transfer pathways, up 3.7 percentage points from the previous year.

Sans associate degrees

Most upward transfer students transferred without earning an associate degree (62.8%), a trend that grew 2% after falling -7.2% in the year prior, driven by a 3.5% increase among continuing students, the report says.

Returning students — they briefly stopped out but came back — who transferred upward without a prior associate degree remained the same (-0.2%), while those who previously earned their associate degree increased in their upward mobility during the pandemic (2.1%).

Two-year college students who transferred to a four-year institution within the same state also reversed course during the pandemic, having increased this spring by 1.2%, following a decline of -7.8% last year, the report says.

By race, age, gender

Transfer enrollment at community colleges declined sharply across all four racial and ethnic groups studied, although the drops were most severe for Black and Latinx students compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to the center. Black transfer students at community colleges fell by almost four times their rate last spring (-15.4% vs. -3.9%), and their Latinx peers decreased by over six times the pre-pandemic decline (-19% vs. -3%). For White students, the transfer rate at public two-year schools dropped -15.3% compared to -11.2% in spring 2020. For Asians, the decrease was -12.8%, compared to -9.8% last spring.

The report shows that traditional college-age students (ages 18 to 24) were far less mobile this spring than adult students, dropping -13.6% in transfer enrollment compared to a -2.5% drop for those 30 and older.
The transfer rates among men at community colleges also decreased significantly compared to last spring, dropping -13.7% compared to -7.2% in spring 2020. Younger men – ages 18 to 24 — saw a drop of about -16% compared to last spring. Older men — 30 and older — saw their rate decrease by -8.3%.

Transfer among women at community colleges also decreased, but at a much lower rate: -6.5% this spring compared to -5.9% last spring. As with men, younger women saw steeper declines in transfers: -12.3% for ages 18 to 20 (compared to -6.4% last spring) and -11.2% for ages 21 to 24 (compared to -4.7% last spring). Female students ages 30 and older at two-year colleges actually saw an increase in their transfer rate by 1.2%. Last spring, their rate slightly decreased by -0.3%.

The report released Wednesday includes information from 94% of Clearinghouse-member institutions, which represents 11.3 million undergraduate students (including 737,000 transfer students) reported as of April 22.

This summer, the NSC Research Center will provide more details on transfer and mobility trends based on the full academic year’s data.

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