AAC&U News: August 2015
Facts & Figures

Transfer and Mobility: A National View of Student Movements

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

A new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center examines trends in student transfer, with findings that complicate some assumptions about transfer patterns. The report follows the 3.6 million students who enrolled in college for the first time in 2008, tracking their progress through and between higher education institutions until 2014. Altogether, these students made 2.4 million transitions from one institution to another during that six-year period.

The conventional view is that students move primarily from two-year institutions to four-year institutions as they progress toward a four-year degree. While such moves do comprise a significant number of student transfers, more students are transferring between different two-year institutions, or transferring from four-year institutions to two-year institutions. And even as an increasing number of states and systems are developing articulation agreements to ease student transfer within systems, this latest report finds that many students are transferring across state lines.


National Transfer Rates

  • Nearly half of all students (48 percent) first enroll in a two-year public institution, while 32 percent first enroll in four-year publics, 14 percent in four-year private nonprofits, and 4.4 percent in four-year for-profits; less than 1 percent enroll in two-year for-profits or two-year private nonprofits.
  • Across all sectors, 37 percent of students transferred at least once in the six-year period between 2008 and 2014. Among those students who do transfer, 45 percent transfer more than once.
  • The greatest number of transfer students come from two-year public colleges—almost 40 percent of transfers originate from these institutions.


Which Students Transfer, and When

  • The plurality of transfers (37 percent) occurred after the student’s second year, followed by the third year (24 percent), but substantial numbers of students transferred after the fifth or sixth year (7.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively).
  • Mixed-enrollment students (both full and part time concurrently) had the highest transfer rates—almost 54 percent—while students enrolled exclusively in part-time programs had the lowest transfer rates, perhaps due to geographic restraints; these students were also most likely to leave college altogether.
  • Transfer often occurred across state lines: nearly 20 percent of transfers from two-year institutions, and 25 percent from four-year institutions, occurred across state lines.


Transfer between Two-Year and Four-Year Institutions

  • Almost a quarter of all student who started at a community college transferred to a four-year institution within six years—but only 3.2 percent of these students received a degree or certificate before transferring.
  • While students starting at a two-year public institution were most likely to transfer to a public four-year institution (42 percent of transfers), a significant number (37 percent) transferred to a different two-year public institution.
  • At four-year public institutions, more than half of transfer students moved to two-year institutions; however, many of these students are “summer-swirlers,” who complete a few credits and soon return to their original institution—a practice associated with higher levels of degree completion.


Did You Know?

  • More than a third of students transfer at least once; of those who do transfer, 45 percent transfer more than once.
  • Only 3 percent of students who transfer from a two-year institution to a four-year institution complete a degree before transferring. 
  • A plurality of transfer students—originating in both two- and four-year institutions—transfer into two-year public institutions.


Read the full report online.

About AAC&U News

AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.


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