Enrollment of transfer students fell 8.1% this fall from last year, compared to a 2.4% decline among their peers who didn't transfer, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center's final numbers for the term.
Students who stopped-out of college before the pandemic began were much less likely to come back this fall, with their enrollment dropping 16.7% year-over-year. Only primarily online institutions reported gains with this population.
The report caps off a bleak term for colleges, which are expected to continue struggling with enrollment and tuition revenue.
All forms of transfer declined during the pandemic. Transfers from four-year institutions to community colleges fell the most, declining 19.4% year-over-year. Students transferring from the same type of institution to another — between four-year colleges, for instance — dropped 12.6%. Transfers from two-year colleges to four-year institutions saw the smallest declines, at 0.7%.
Community colleges were hit hardest. They enrolled 19.2% fewer transfer students this fall, compared to drops at public and private nonprofit four-year institutions of 1.9% and 1.3%, respectively.
Public two-year schools saw fewer students among every racial and ethnic group tracked, with enrollment of Black transfer students dropping the most, at 22.5%. Four-year colleges also saw declines among most groups, though their enrollment of Asian transfer students increased.
Additionally, enrollment of male transfer students fell twice as much as female transfers, 11.6% compared to 5.7%. The report does not include data for nonbinary students.
The transfer declines follow overall enrollment patterns this term. Around 500,000 fewer students enrolled in college this fall compared to last year, with the undergraduate population shrinking 3.6%, according to the Clearinghouse's final figures. Steep declines of first-time and students enrolling after stopping out partly drove those trends.
Still, some colleges are making gains with stopped-out students, with several using virtual learning to draw them back. Colleges that had more than 90% of their students studying exclusively online before the pandemic reported a 4.1% increase in transfer students who had previously left college before finishing a credential.
The sector's challenges are likely to continue, however. Two recent reports from credit ratings agencies suggested the sector will see enrollment uncertainty next year. Moreover, Moody's Investors Service predicts that community college enrollment declines will cause those schools' net tuition revenue to drop between 5% and 15% in 2021.