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Home » About the Clearinghouse » Media Center » Postsecondary Transfer Enrollment Stabilized In Fall 2021

HERNDON, VA— (Jan. 19, 2022) — Postsecondary transfer enrollment appears to have stabilized in fall 2021 following a precipitous decline a year earlier, with a drop of less than 1% (-11,300 students) compared to a 9.2% decline (-137,000 students) in fall 2020, according to research released today by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

In contrast, non-transfer enrollment fell a further 4.1%, an acceleration of the previous year’s 2.3% drop. The latest COVID-19: Transfer, Mobility, and Progress report, the sixth in the series, reflects the pandemic’s impact on postsecondary transfer students.

“Transfer pathways in fall 2021 show signs of students and campuses working hard to find greater latitude for navigating the pandemic,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Even as total undergraduate enrollment slid further, students who have stayed enrolled are finding ways to adapt to their specific challenges through transfer and mobility.”

Report Highlights include:

  • Transfers are up 2.3% among continuing students (+19,300), but down a further 5.8% among those returning from a stop-out (-30,600). Increased transfers among continuing students were most pronounced at private nonprofit four-year institutions (+7.7%), followed by public four-year institutions (+1.5%).
  • Patterns of transfer and mobility have diverged across different pathways in fall 2021. Reverse and lateral transfers, the pathways with the steepest declines reported the year before, remain largely stable (-0.9% vs. -17.5% in fall 2020 and +0.2% vs. -13.3% in fall 2020, respectively). Upward transfers continued to dip slightly (-1.6% vs. -2.7% in fall 2020), now showing the largest numerical decline of any pathway (-10,600 students compared with -1,756 reverse transfers and +1,039 lateral transfers).
  • Mobility increased among continuing students but decreased among returning students across all transfer pathways (upward, lateral, and reverse). Four-year lateral transfers–from a four-year to another four-year college–had the largest disparity, increasing 9.0% (+15,200) among continuing students while declining 9.2% (-10,000) for returning students.
  • Upward transfers increased at very competitive colleges in fall 2021 (+5,000 students or +4.0%). Also notable is a 5-6% growth in four-year lateral transfers at very competitive and competitive institutions (+9,200 students as a total). Upward transfers at highly selective institutions grew more slowly than last year (+1,700 students or +2.7% vs. +5,600 students or +9.5% in fall 2020).
  • Younger transfer students aged 18-20 is the only age group to experience growth in fall 2021, fully recovering from their 2020 declines (+13.6% vs. -8.7% in fall 2020).
  • Reversing the gender pattern from fall 2020, transfer enrollment increased 1.2% for men (+6,200), while continuing to decline another 2.3% for women (-18,200).
  • Compared to fall 2020, White, Black, Latinx, and Native American transfer enrollments dropped at considerably smaller rates (-2.5%, -1.8%, -2.9%, and -1.0%, respectively). Asian transfer student numbers fell slightly more than last year (-4.4%).

The COVID-19: Transfer, Mobility, and Progress presents the undergraduate transfer enrollment and pathways in the fall of 2021. It analyzes 12 million undergraduate students, including 1.3 million transfer students, as reported by 92.6% of colleges as of Nov 18, 2021. Because of the high data coverage rate, this report offers the enrollment numbers along with the year-over-year percentage changes, both of which are available for downloading.

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.

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 2019. Clearinghouse data track enrollments nationally and are not limited by institutional and state boundaries. To learn more, visit