Challenges Posed by Student Transfer
For the first time, annual survey
results for this year's National Survey of Student Engagement
(NSSE) include responses to questions about attendance at
multiple institutions. The survey results, reported in
Exploring Different Dimensions of Student Engagement,
indicate that a large share of today's undergraduates are
attending multiple institutions. Similar findings have been
reported in two recent reports from the National Center for
Education Statistics (NCES), Postsecondary Attainment,
Attendance, Curriculum, and Performance and The Road
Less Traveled?: Students Who Enroll at Multiple Institutions.
These reports highlight the challenges of engaging
and graduating transfer students.
General Education and
Student Transfer: Fostering Intentionality and Coherence in
State Systems, a new AAC&U publication supported
by the Greater Expectations for Student Transfer project,
provides another perspective on the problem of student transfer.
Focusing on how to define and communicate educational purposes,
this publication argues that ensuring programmatic coherence
at the state level is essential at a time when so many students
are attending multiple institutions. The publication includes
an informal survey, conducted by AAC&U, of general education
and transfer policies in the forty-eight states for which
information was available. The survey found a wide variation
in general education requirements and revealed that relatively
few state systems currently have intentional statewide policies.
NSSE Findings on Student Transfer
- Almost half (45 percent) of
all responding college seniors completed at least one course
at another postsecondary institution since graduating from
high school but prior to enrolling at their current institution.
- More than half (55 percent)
of all transfer students took the majority of their courses
from a vocational-technical school or from a community or
- Compared to students who began
and persisted at a single four-year institution, students
who transferred to a four-year institution from a two-year
institution tended to have fewer interactions with faculty
and fewer educationally enriching activities such as internships,
community service, and senior capstone courses.
- Students who transferred from
one four-year institution to another were more likely than
other students to participate in active and collaborative
learning, but were less likely to participate in educationally
enriching activities or to view the campus as supportive;
they also reported gaining less from college and were less
satisfied with their experience than other students.
Findings from AAC&U's
Survey of State Transfer Policies
- In twenty-two of the forty-eight
states surveyed, the coordinating or governing board has
specified a general education requirement that includes
both total credits and particular numbers of credits in
specific areas that students at all institutions must complete
to earn a bachelor's degree.
- In three states with small higher
education systems and a single university, general education
requirements are set by the state university.
- Nine states have created a general
education system that does not have the force of regulation
but that, if followed by students, will automatically be
accepted in transfer.
- In four states that have no
statewide general education requirements, four-year institutions
must consider those who complete the general education program
at a two-year college as having satisfied lower-division
general education requirements.
- Ten states have no statewide
arrangement for either the design or the transfer of a general
Different Dimensions of Student Engagement is available
for download or purchase from NSSE. The two NCES reports mentioned
Attainment, Attendance, Curriculum, and Performance
Road Less Traveled? are also available for download.
- Only ten states—Colorado, Georgia,
Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York,
Texas, and Utah—have spelled out in detail the intentions
of their general education requirements and transfer policies.
- Relatively few states have statewide
general education requirements that specify particular intellectual
skills: five require attention to oral communication, five
to technology, four to critical thinking, three to ethical
reasoning, and one to lifelong understanding and development.
- The most common reasons students gave
for transferring to their current institution were the institution's
location and the availability of a specific program of study.