- Transfer enrollment dropped 6.9% this spring compared to last year, with upward transfers from two-year colleges to four-year institutions bearing the brunt of the declines, according to data released Tuesday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
- Those upward transfers dropped 11.6% year over year this spring. All student groups experienced declines, regardless of age, gender, race or ethnicity.
- These trends wiped out upward transfer enrollment gains seen last year among select groups, including women, and Asian and Latinx students.
The clearinghouse's latest enrollment report indicates more turbulence is ahead for the higher education sector. Transfer enrollment has declined 16% since the pandemic started, and spring figures show the losses have slowed little as coronavirus restrictions ease.
The losses in upward transfer are most likely a ripple effect of pandemic-related enrollment declines at community colleges, according to the report.
Other experts agreed.
"This is not a terribly surprising development given the steep enrollment declines among community colleges since the beginning of the pandemic," said Justin Ortagus, a higher education professor at the University of Florida. Overall community college enrollment plummeted by 19.7% from spring 2020 to spring 2022.
Declines in upward transfer came after this enrollment type held steady in spring 2021, rising year over year by 0.1%. Enrollment of students transferring from four-year institutions to two-year colleges, called reverse transfer, also fell sharply in spring 2022, by 4.4%. The same was true of students transferring between two-year colleges, which dropped 11.1% year over year this spring.
The only transfer type that saw gains was transfer between four-year institutions, which rose 5% this spring after falling 8.8% a year ago.
A decline in upward transfer could harm both institutions that rely on transfer enrollment and students that could miss out on the economic benefits of obtaining a bachelor's degree.
"This constriction of a key path to bachelor's degree attainment is very concerning," Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said in a statement. "Lower-income students seeking more-affordable degree options are being squeezed out."
Nearly all types of transfer enrollment declined in spring 2022
Continuing transfer students are those that were enrolled in fall 2021 at a different institution than the one they attended this spring. Their enrollment fell at every college type tracked except four-year for-profits. At those institutions, continuing transfer enrollment grew 7.8% over last year. Returning transfer students are those who had previously stopped out at a different institution than the one they currently attend.
The overall declines in upward transfer enrollment coupled with increases at for-profit institutions are cause for concern, Ortagus said.
"I can't think of many worse decisions a student can make than the decision to transfer to a for-profit institution," Ortagus said, citing that sector's higher loan debt averages and poorer student outcomes compared to those at nonprofit institutions. "It's just a concerning development when you think about equity and quality in higher education."
Continuing transfer at for-profits ticked up
Only transfer students between the ages of 18 and 20 experienced enrollment growth this spring, rising 3% year over year. All other age groups saw declines, which were particularly pronounced among students ages 25 and older.
Nearly all ages saw transfer enrollment declines
All racial and ethnic groups saw declines in transfer enrollment in the spring. Enrollment of white students dipped the most, by 9.4%, followed by Asian students, at 9.1%.
All racial and ethnic groups saw transfer enrollment declines
The figures are based on a fixed panel of institutions that enroll 11.2 million undergraduate students, including 632,000 transfer students.