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Home » About the Clearinghouse » Media Center » Fall 2020 First Look Transfer Patterns Show More Students Moving From Community Colleges to Four-Year Colleges; Fewer Transfers Otherwise

Good News for Community College Students Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree but Subgroups Falling Further Behind Other Demographics

HERNDON, VA – (Oct. 27, 2020) – The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released today new research that shows increased transfers from community colleges to four-year institutions in the first fall semester of the pandemic, while fewer students transferred from four-year institutions to two-year colleges, or laterally among two-year or four-year institutions. These findings are based on preliminary data reported as of September 24, 2020, by 54% of Title IV degree-granting institutions that participate in the Clearinghouse.

The COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress Report reveals that continuing students are the driver of increases in upward transfer. This is good news for four-year colleges looking to close enrollment gaps, but adds to enrollment concerns in the community college sector. Even though the increase in upward transfer is promising for community college students seeking a bachelor’s degree, it was uneven across different student subgroups, with male students, Black students, and adult learners falling further behind other demographics.

“The pandemic seems to be affecting students mainly by keeping them out of college, not by driving them to change colleges,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Fewer students are enrolling as freshmen and fewer are returning from stop-outs, and despite fears that many would be forced to transfer to lower-cost or closer-to-home options, student mobility overall appears constrained.”

The COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress Report findings include:

  • This first look challenges recent predictions about the likely effects of the pandemic, such as an anticipated influx of four-year college students transferring into community colleges. There is little evidence of an expected increase in the challenges facing students seeking to transfer upward from a community college.
  • The overall transfer enrollment is down 4.7% from last fall, declining slightly more steeply than the number of undergraduate students generally. Each transfer pathway, however, responded differently. The number of reverse transfers fell far more (-18.4%), along with summer swirlers (-10.8%) and lateral transfers (-8.3%), while upward transfers unexpectedly increased (+2.6%).
  • The growth in upward transfers is led by continuing students, those who maintained enrollment since the COVID-19 outbreak. The number of continuing upward transfer students without first finishing an associate degree increased from last fall; upward transfers who crossed state lines also increased. Furthermore, returning students, those who had a stop-out prior to the outbreak, are less likely to come back at all this fall, and less than half of those who returned transferred.

The Research Center’s COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress Report series, with support from Ascendium Education Group and the ECMC Foundation, will identify changes in student transfer pathways that are attributable to the pandemic by using historical data as the pre-pandemic baseline and the Clearinghouse’s current enrollment data. By making transfer data and insights accessible online for free, the Research Center will enable schools, institutions, organizations, and policymakers to better adapt and serve students, particularly those from the most vulnerable populations, during the pandemic and beyond.

The next updates (with dates subject to change) to the COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress Report are:

  • End of Term Report: Dec. 21, 2020, Representing Fall 2020
  • First-Look of Term Report: March 2021, Representing Spring 2021
  • End of Term Report: May 2021, Representing Spring 2021
  • Special Report: Summer 2021, Representing Academic Year 2020-21
  • First-Look of Term Report: Oct. 2021, Representing Fall 2021
  • End of Term Report: Dec 2021, Representing Fall 2021
  • End of Term Report: May 2022, Representing Spring 2022
  • Special Report: Summer 2022, Topic TBD

About the National Student Clearinghouse® Research Center™

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center is the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse. The Research Center collaborates with higher education institutions, states, school districts, high schools, and educational organizations as part of a national effort to better inform education leaders and policymakers. Through accurate longitudinal data outcomes reporting, the Research Center enables better educational policy decisions leading to improved student outcomes.

The Research Center currently collects data from more than 3,600 postsecondary institutions, which represent 97 percent of the nation’s postsecondary enrollments in degree-granting institutions, as of 2018. Clearinghouse data track enrollments nationally and are not limited by institutional and state boundaries. To learn more, visit