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Home » About the Clearinghouse » Media Center » New Research: Spring 2021 Transfer Enrollment Declines 3.8 Times Larger Than Last Spring

 COVID-19 Accelerated Transfer Decline for White and Black Students, Male Students, and Traditional College-Age Students

HERNDON, VA – (April 12, 2021) – The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released today new research showing transfer enrollment is down 7.9% this spring, 3.8 times larger than last spring, which declined 2.1%. Transfer enrollment declines are especially steep in the community college sector with a 15.2% drop, but transfer enrollments at public four-year colleges remain stable from last spring.

“Transfer enrollment declines this spring are largely attributable to lower enrollment levels last fall and a higher fall-to-spring attrition rate during COVID-19,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “As the pandemic continues to shift the postsecondary landscape, colleges and universities must address the needs of the students who are most impacted.”

Other highlights from the COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress: First Look Spring 2021 Report include:

  • Students are less mobile along all transfer pathways, except for upward transfer where students grew 3% this spring over pre-pandemic levels. Both reverse and lateral transfer suffered steep enrollment declines of 21% and 9.2%, respectively.
  • Transfer enrollment decline is more evident among White and Black students than their Hispanic and Asian peers. Hispanic transfer enrollment currently shows the strongest growth in the public four-year sector.
  • With gender disparities growing across all age groups, transfer declines are larger for men, especially in upward transfer.
  • Transfer declined for continuing students at twice the rate of returning students this spring (-10.2% and -4.9%, respectively, from a year ago). Continuing students transferring to community colleges decreased 20.8%, ten times the pre-pandemic rate of decline.

Summary and Implications

Last fall, the Research Center found a dampening of student transfer during the pandemic, along with signs of disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged students. A year into the pandemic these trends have largely persisted into the spring and all transfer pathways continue to be impacted. There are several noteworthy patterns to know.

A ripple effect from last fall’s enrollment decline combined with an increase in the fall to spring attrition rate during COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented 5.9% decline this spring for continuing students. In contrast, there was little change in former students returning this spring after a stop-out.

In both the continuing and returning student categories, transfer enrollment declines this spring are largely borne by the community college sector—the worst hit sector by COVID-19. Community colleges have tended to lose enrollments because of growing upward transfers, fewer reverse transfers and diminishing incoming enrollments of new students.

Finally, COVID-19 accelerated the decline in transfer for White and Black students, male students, and 18- to 24-year-old students, especially in the community college sector. This suggests that even traditional-age students who were affected by constrained student transfer and mobility by the pandemic have faced unexpected hurdles in their postsecondary access and success.


The COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress: First Look Spring 2021 Report, the third report in the series, offers a first look into the spring 2021 student transfer patterns as of February 25. This report focuses on year-over-year changes within a fixed panel of institutions representing 74% of the Clearinghouse universe and 8.8 million undergraduate students, including 532,000 transfer students. These preliminary results will be updated as more data are received later in the spring.

The COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress Report series, with support from Ascendium Education Group and ECMC Foundation, identifies 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 providing the most up-to-date information about student transfer available online for free, the Research Center enables 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 Transfer Report is scheduled for May 2021. Attend the Research Center’s webinar on April 21 at 1 pm ET to further understand the impact of the pandemic on college enrollment.

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 analyzes the data from 3,600 postsecondary institutions, which represent 97% of the nation’s postsecondary enrollments in Title IV degree-granting institutions in the U.S., as of 2018. Clearinghouse data track enrollments nationally and are not limited by institutional and state boundaries. To learn more, visit