Higher education lost about 191,500 transfer students between July 2020 and June 2021, or -8.4% compared to the previous year. That’s according to research by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center.
Lateral and reverse transfers suffered double-digit declines during the 2020-21 academic year. Lateral transfers between two-year colleges fell -15.2%. Reverse transfers fell -16.2% overall. And persistence rates among post-transfer students enrolled in community colleges fell, too.
Upward transfers – moving from two-year to four-year colleges – held up “relatively well,” according to the report, but not for everyone.
Decline, then some growth, in upward transfers
Upward transfers saw only a -1.3% decline or about 11,900 student losses, and, in fact, increased in spring.
The decline was driven by male students, who fell by -4.4%, more than 2.5 times the previous year’s decline. Upward transfers among female students grew marginally (0.6%), reversing a pre-pandemic decline.
Asian and Latinx transfers grew (5.9% and 1.4%, respectively). Latinx students had the largest growth in spring upward transfers, mostly with transfers to less competitive colleges. But upward transfers among Black and Native American students fell further than pre-pandemic decline (-6.1% and -4.1%, respectively). Among white students, there was a -4.4% decline in upward transfer, which is consistent with the pre-pandemic rate of decline.
Only highly selective institutions expanded their transfer enrollment for 2020-21. Upward transfer enrollment at these institutions grew by 10.3%. While it increased across all racial and ethnic categories, white students drove that growth at these institutions.
Upward transfer enrollment into primarily online institutions (POIs) also increased, though marginally (0.6%), compared with the previous year (1.2%).
Moving into spring 2021, “upward transfers grew more widely across other selective categories and a new racial and ethnic divide emerged: While White upward transfers continued to rise at highly selective colleges, for Latinx students, who had the highest upward transfer growth of the spring, their growth was heavily concentrated at less competitive institutions,” the report says.
Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) had substantial transfer student losses this year (-11.8% or 70,400 students), while historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) remained largely unaffected. Both saw post-transfer persistence rates falling due to the pandemic, except that HSIs made some gains in the latter part of the year.
Post-transfer persistence rates decline
Looking at the full persistence picture, the national persistence rate post-transfer dropped slightly from pre-pandemic levels, despite predictions that the pandemic would disrupt continuing enrollment. That’s among all transfer pathways, including lateral and reverse transfers.
The resurgence of Covid late last year doesn’t appear to have affected the mid-year term-to-term national persistence rate. Among those who transferred in fall 2020, approximately 1.4 million students (19.3%) stopped out in spring 2021, for an overall persistence rate of 80.7%.
Pandemic-related declines occurred almost exclusively in community colleges and private, nonprofit four-year institutions, especially among Latinx and Native American transfer students enrolled in community colleges. Black transfer students at private nonprofit four-year institutions also saw declines in persistence rates.
In terms of age and gender, declines were driven by students ages 18-20, and male students entered a “downward path” in post-transfer persistence, the report says.