Two New Reports Provide Insights on Enrollment Trends and Policies to Support Transfer Students

May 16, 2022

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Titles: Transfer, Progress, and Mobility (National Student Clearinghouse)
The Emerging Role of Public Higher Education Systems in Advancing Transfer Student Success (National Association of System Heads)

As enrollment remains a primary concern among institutional leaders, two new reports provide insight on trends in transfer enrollment and strategies for transfer student success.

The National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) recently released their eighth update on transfer student enrollment and pathways. Their analyses have been useful to understanding the impact COVID-19 has had on navigating transfer options and changes in mobility. Key findings from NSC’s data analysis include:

  • Transfer enrollment has dropped 16 percent since spring 2020 and nearly 7 percent over the past year.
  • Regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, or age, upward transfer enrollment has declined by nearly 12 percent over the last year after remaining relatively stable between spring 2020-21.
  • The only transfer pathway to demonstrate growth in the last year was lateral transfer between four-year institutions (5 percent).
  • Transfer enrollment among students continuing from fall 2021 decreased 5.3 percent while returning transfer student enrollment dropped 8.6 percent.
  • Transfer enrollment grew among students aged 18-20 (a one-year increase of 3 percent). NSC attributes this growth largely to the increasing number of students (14.3 percent) who have returned after stopping out.

With these data in mind, a new report from the National Association of System Heads provides a look at how public higher education systems (collections of institutions that are governed by a single governing board and typically report to a separate administrative structure, or system administration) can use policy approaches to improve mobility and transfer student success.

The report uses data from a national survey of system leaders, review of literature, and insights from experts to frame policies and practices. Central to this analysis is a review of current efforts by systems to improve transfer success. These policy levers are:

  • Transfer credit and/or course guarantees: Efforts to standardize how credits move between campuses within the system and ensure earned credits are applied to students’ degree requirements once they completer transfer.
  • Aligning curriculum: System-wide alignment of general education courses and lower division major courses to ensure students do not need to retake classes they have already completed.
  • Transfer credit appeals. Provides a mechanism for individual issues to be resolved quickly so as not to impact students’ academic experiences. The authors outline several limitations to this approach including lack of awareness of institutional- and system-level policies for students to engage in the process.
  • Reverse transfer: An avenue for individuals who have earned credit but have not completed their credential to apply those credits to an associate degree. While reverse transfer may also be a useful tool to close equity gaps, limitations include lack of communication, access to advising resources, and misalignment of courses to meet degree requirements.
  • Grading policies for transfer. The standardization of minimum grades that must be met for transfer credit to be accepted. With many institutions using pass/fail grading options during the COVID-19 pandemic, this could create a barrier to transfer mobility.

The report also includes system spotlights and examples to highlight policies and practices in action, discusses the role of technology in advancing goals for transfer success, and highlights how data can be used to center equity in transfer processes.

To read the latest analysis on transfer enrollment trends by National Student Clearinghouse, click here. To read the full report on the role of public higher education in advancing transfer student success, click here.

—Danielle Melidona

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