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COVID-19 Transfer Report Provides Insight into First Two Years of the Pandemic

HERNDON, VA – (Sept. 13, 2022) – Higher education experienced a two-year loss of 296,200 transfer students, or 13.5% during the pandemic, according to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. From 2020 to 2022, all transfer pathways were impacted.

Prior to the pandemic, academic year 2019-20, nearly 2.2 million students transferred to another institution to continue their college careers. During the pandemic’s first year, academic year 2020-21, transfer losses equated to nearly 200,000 fewer students, or -9.1%. In the pandemic’s second year, academic year 2021-22, an additional -97,200 transfer students, or -4.9% were lost.

“Many pandemic impacts will take years to work their way through the system, continuing to alter learners’ educational trajectories and institutions’ enrollment pipelines long after the pandemic ends,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Today’s missing transfer students will too often become tomorrow’s missing graduates unless educators and policy makers respond quickly with interventions tailored to the needs of affected learners.”

Other highlights of the COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress First Two Years of the Pandemic Report include:

◼ Transfer pathways into two-year institutions, via reverse transfer and two-year lateral transfer, experienced double-digit rate declines, -21.3% or -113,300 in lateral transfer; and -18.0% or -66,900 in reverse transfer. Transfers to four-year institutions also experienced steep declines, -9.7% or -86,000 in upward transfer; -7.6% or -29,900 in lateral transfer.

◼ The student persistence rate one term after transferring declined across the board and remained below pre-pandemic levels. Year two, however, showed signs of recovery among younger students (20 or younger), men, bachelor’s degree-seeking students, and at private nonprofit four-year institutions.

◼ Students over age 20 suffered steeper declines, accounting for 85 percent of the total two-year decline in transfer enrollment. These students declined at more than twice the rate of younger students (-16.2% vs. -7.2% for those 20 or younger). Younger students made up 30 percent of transfer enrollment overall.

◼ White, Black, and Native American transfer enrollments all declined precipitously over the last two years (-163,100, -16.4%; -54,800, -16.4%; -3,100, -15.6%, respectively). For Latinx students, lateral four-year transfers increased but upward transfers declined, and their persistence rates post-transfer declined.

◼ The pandemic had differential impacts on transfer for institutions serving specific populations of students. Rural-Serving Institutions (RSIs) did not fall as sharply as Non-RSIs (-51,900, -11.1% vs. -225,800, -15.4%, respectively). Hispanic Serving Institutions suffered far steeper transfer enrollment declines than Historic Black Colleges and Universities (-102,400, -16.9% vs. -1,000, -4.2%, respectively).

The following figure shows that transfer trends shifted in pandemic year two by the steep decline in upward transfer and the stabilization in lateral transfer at four-year institutions.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center will host a webinar from 2 pm to 3 pm ET on Tuesday, Sept. 13, discussing these findings. Participants will include Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center; John Fink, Senior Research Associate, Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University; Jeff Gold, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Success, California State University; Tania LaViolet, Director of College Excellence Program, Aspen Institute; Carolynn Lee, Senior Program Officer, Ascendium Education Group​​; and Sarah Belnick, Senior Program Director of College Success, ECMC Foundation.​​​​​​

Background on COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress Report Series

The report identifies the ways the pandemic is changing transfer pathways across higher education. The pandemic’s impacts on transfer enrollment shifted as the pandemic progressed, with transfer pathways and student groups showing diverging patterns over time. As the ninth issue in the series, this report summarizes notable changes in transfer enrollment and persistence post-transfer over a two-year period, with results broken out by academic year, student characteristics, and institution type and selectivity. In addition to the minority-serving institutions analyzed in previous editions, this report offers a new analysis of Rural-Serving Institutions to gain insight to how transfer pathways were impacted in rural communities over the last two years.

The findings in this report are based on a fixed panel of institutions representing 89.9% of the Clearinghouse universe of institutions, where more than 13 million undergraduate students were enrolled, including 2 million transfer students, during the 2021-22 academic year as of June 2022. Throughout the report, pandemic year one refers to academic year 2020-21 and pandemic year two refers to academic year 2021-22, while academic year 2019-20 is referred to as pre-pandemic year.

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% of the nation’s postsecondary enrollments in degree-granting institutions, as of 2019. Clearinghouse data track enrollments nationally and are not limited by institutional and state boundaries. To learn more, visit