Trends among transfers this fall


New national data show declines in overall transfer enrollment among public two-year college students slowed this fall to -1.5%, but there are some points of hope.

The decrease of 6,284 students transferring in the fall of 2021 adds to the more than 99,000 fewer transfers among community college students in fall 2020 — a two-year pandemic drop of -20.4%, according to research released Wednesday by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center.

However, there was a 1% increase in the sector this fall among continuing transfers — students who were enrolled in the spring or summer prior to transferring — after a nearly -25% drop in fall 2020.

Overall, postsecondary transfer enrollment (both for continuing students and those returning from a stop-out) appears to have stabilized in fall 2021, with a drop of less than -1% (-11,300 students) compared to a -9.2% decline (-137,000 students) in fall 2020, according to the NSC Research Center.

Transfers are up 2.3% (19,300 students) among continuing students but down a further -5.8% (30,600 students) among those returning from a stop-out.

Looking at the breakdowns for public two-year colleges, transfers for continuing students increased 1% (1,837 students) this fall, following the -24.8% (59,855 students) decrease in fall 2020. The rate for returning transfer students dropped again by -3.4% on top of the -14.2% in fall 2020.

Continuing students transferring from community college to private nonprofit four-year institutions increased 5.4%. The center noted that upward transfers continued to decline among students transferring with an associate degree while growing among students transferring without an associate degree, -6.9 and 1%, respectively.

Upward transfer

Upward transfer from a community college to a four-year college is up 0.4% (2,052) among continuing transfers, compared to -3.6% (-17,675) in fall 2020. Upward transfer is still the most common type of transfer, said Kent Phillippe, vice president of research and student success at the American Association of Community Colleges. Nearly half (47.7%) of the transfer enrollments in spring 2021 were two-year college students who transferred to a four-year college. In addition, there is an unknown percentage of students in the four-year-to-four-year category who likely are students transferring from a baccalaureate-granting community college to a four-year institution, he said.

In addition, it appears that the upward transfer (from two-year to four-year colleges) was greater for students going out of state (8.1%) than those remaining in state this year (-2.6%), Phillippe said. That may be a result of staying home at a community college for pandemic reasons for the 2020-21 academic year, then going to a four-year college out of state this fall, he said. 

“It would also be consistent with higher transfers to the more competitive/selective institutions,” Phillippe said.

Looking at demographics

The report includes transfer trends among age, gender and race/ethnicity.

Among public two-year colleges, Black students were the only racial/ethnic group to see an increase in transfers (2.9%), following a -23.9% decrease in fall 2020. However, there was a 13.5% increase among students classified as “other,” which includes Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, international, multi-race students and unknown/missing students. There was a similar increase in this classification of students among transfers at public four-year institutions.

Reverse transfers — students moving from a four-year institution to a two-year college — saw a -0.9% dip, with a slight increase among continuing students at 0.6%. However, there was a 3% and 3.1% increase respectively among Black and Latinx students. White and Asian students continued to see a decrease among reverse transfers, -7.4% and -7.6%, respectively.

Reversing the gender pattern from fall 2020, overall transfer enrollment increased 1.2% for men (6,200), while continuing to decline another -2.3% for women (18,200). The community college sector saw a higher rate of increase for men (2.3%), while the rate of decrease for women slowed to -4.1%. Since fall 2019, the transfer enrollment rate for men is down -23.2% and -18.5% for women.

The NSC Research Center used data on 12 million undergraduate students, including 1.3 million transfer students, as reported by about 93% of colleges as of Nov. 18, 2021.

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.