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Higher Ed Transfer Paths Shrink Nearly 300,000 During the Pandemic

by NSC Blog | Sep 14, 2022 | Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, Research Reports, Research Services |

COVID-19 Transfer Data Reveals Trends that Can Inform Equity and Student Success Policies

Doug Shapiro HeadshotThe National Student Clearinghouse Research Center has been reporting on student transfer patterns in near real-time over the past two years. The data can help colleges and universities develop policies and system-level initiatives that address student transfer and pipeline needs to support student success in the post-COVID environment.

Alignment of transfer policy and practice with student needs is difficult, even in times of relative stability. When the COVID-19 health crisis emerged, the Research Center embarked on a two-year project to better understand how this disruption has impacted transfer. With funding from Ascendium and ECMC Foundation, the Research Center hopes their data will help colleges and universities develop policies and system-level initiatives that address student transfer and pipeline needs to support student success in the post-COVID environment.

Ascendium’s Streamline Key Learner Transitions focus area supports institutions and systems as they work to facilitate seamless transitions for students to and between postsecondary education and career opportunities. The Research Center’s final report shows a concerning finding, particularly for learners from low-income backgrounds — that overall transfer rates dropped during the COVID-19 health crisis. Higher education experienced a two-year loss of 296,200 transfer students, or 13.5% during the pandemic. From 2020 to 2022, all transfer pathways were impacted.

Doug Shapiro, executive director of the Research Center, explains how this transfer data can help inform systemic change to support learners from low-income backgrounds. Learn more about the role of community college enrollments, institution type, and demographics in transfer trends in the following interview.

Q: One stated goal of the project was to help policymakers and educators understand the impact of COVID-19 on student transfer and progress patterns and to respond accordingly. How have policymakers and educators responded to the reports so far?

Doug Shapiro on stakeholder response to the ongoing reports so far.

Q: The May 2022 report was the eighth in the series and the last report to be released before the final report. It highlighted the decline in upward transfer, defined as transfer from two-year institutions to four-year institutions, over the past year. It noted that such transfers saw a relatively steep decline after remaining stable the year before. How does this impact learners from low-income backgrounds?

Doug Shapiro on the impact of drop-off in upward transfers of learners from low-income backgrounds

Q: Do you expect the decline in upward transfer to continue? Why, why not?

Doug Shapiro on whether decline in upward transfers will continue.

Q: How might policymakers use this data about upward transfer to support student success?

Doug Shapiro on how policymakers might use data about upward transfer to support student success.

Q: The final report summarizing the last two years was just released. What do you consider to be the key findings of this report?

Doug Shapiro on key findings of the final report.

Q: What factors do you believe will impact the transfer trends outlined in the report in the future?

Doug Shapiro on factors that will impact transfer trends outlined in the future.

Q: How will the findings from the final report inform future research and policymaking?

Doug Shapiro on how findings will inform research and policymaking in the future.

“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 policymakers respond quickly with interventions tailored to the needs of affected learners.”

This 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.

“Today’s missing transfer students will too often become tomorrow’s missing graduates unless educators and policymakers respond quickly with interventions tailored to the needs of affected learners.”

Doug Shapiro
Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

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