Overall Transfer Enrollment Declines 7% Since Fall 2020
HERNDON, VA – (March 9, 2023) – Transfer enrollment from two-year colleges to four-year institutions, called upward transfer, fell nearly 8% in fall 2022 compared to the previous year, while reverse and lateral transfer began to rise, according to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Upward transfer declines accounted for the majority of fall 2022’s transfer enrollment losses and deteriorated during the pandemic for students at all income levels.
The new, post-pandemic, report series Transfer and Progress: Fall 2022 Report reveals that baccalaureate degree programs appear increasingly out of reach for community college students, particularly those enrolled in urban and suburban community colleges, and in transfer-focused community colleges.
Furthermore, fall transfer enrollment slowed its decline in 2022, but still decreased at a faster rate than non-freshman undergraduates that did not transfer. Non-freshmen undergraduate enrollment declined at a slower rate in fall 2022 compared to the previous year (-1.5% vs. -4.1%) but declines continued to be steeper for transfers than non-transfers (-2.3% vs. -1.4%), resulting in a 6.9% decrease in transfer students since fall 2020 (see Figure 1).
“Unlike the stabilization that we saw in the general enrollment numbers last month, the number of students who transferred in fall 2022 is continuing the downward slide it has been on since the pandemic began in 2020, and this is especially true for upward transfers,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “It is very encouraging, however, that among those who transferred from community colleges into four-year schools six years ago, students are now completing bachelor’s degrees at higher rates than before, despite the disruptions of the pandemic.”
Additional research highlights include:
- Transfer pathways to highly selective public flagship and private institutions are dominated by students from the top 20% in the U.S. household income distribution.
- Women fared worse than men in transfer enrollment overall, especially among continuing transfers.
- Only younger (20 or younger) transfer students made gains in fall 2022.
- For the first time since the pandemic, transfer increased among students returning from a stop out (+5.4% or an increase of 26,800 students over Fall 2021). Primarily online institutions accounted for nearly 40% of this growth.
- The transfer-in population is a diminishing share of the four-year college student body for all races except Black students enrolled in private nonprofit four-years.
- Baccalaureate degree attainment rates improved for the fall 2016 community college entering cohort even during their pandemic-impacted 5th and 6th years of enrollment.
The Transfer and Progress report series is a redesign of the Research Center’s two primary transfer reports, combining the enrollment focus of the COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress reports, which provides how many students enrolled as a transfer within a current term, with the outcomes focus of the Tracking Transfer reports, which provide what percent of entering community college students reach transfer and completion milestones within six years.
Included in this report is a new experimental analysis of students’ income to provide insights to how closely postsecondary transfer pathways track students’ socioeconomic circumstances before and after the pandemic began. This new income proxy measure matches students’ address data with U.S. Census Bureau data on the income profile of the census tract. Coming out of the pandemic, this report series aims to better serve the education community and policymakers with new, timely, and detailed data that are only available through the Clearinghouse.
This first report covers 11.5 million undergraduate students without a prior bachelor’s degree that were enrolled in fall 2022 in a three-year fixed panel of institutions (fall 2020 to 2022), representing approximately 89.0% of the Clearinghouse universe of institutions. Additionally, to establish the pre-pandemic baseline for all new analyses, an expanded five-year fixed panel of institutions (fall 2018 to fall 2022) was employed, that represents 11 million undergraduates without a prior bachelor’s degree and 83.8% of the Clearinghouse universe of institutions.
The new report series was created with support from the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through grant R305X220022 to Teachers College, Columbia University as part of the Accelerating Recovery in Community Colleges (ARCC) Network, for the expanded analyses on the pandemic recovery for community colleges; and Ascendium Education Group for student income analyses. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education, nor Ascendium Education.
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 more than 3,600 Title IV eligible degree-granting postsecondary institutions, which represent 97% of the nation’s postsecondary enrollment as of fall 2020. Clearinghouse data track enrollments nationally and are not limited by institutional and state boundaries. To learn more, visit https://nscresearchcenter.org.