Research has shown that transferring between two institutions is no easy feat—especially for those starting at a community college.
Although transfer students make up nearly half of the undergraduate population, they face a number of barriers to success, writes Jay Matthews for the Washington Post. In fact, only 23% of community college students who intend to attain a bachelor’s degree successfully earn one within eight years.
One reason for these dismal numbers may be that four-year institutions have tended to overlook transfer students in the past because their outcomes don’t count towards the institutions’ graduation rate, argues Bart Grachan, an associate dean of progress and completion at LaGuardia Community College.
The National Center for Education Statistics‘ (NCES) reporting system only tracks transfer student data at the institution they started at, not at the institution they transfer to, explains Grachan. When students transfer out of a college, that’s counted as if they had dropped out of college altogether—even if they go on to graduate elsewhere.
Under the federal government’s current four-year graduation rate model, even Barack Obama and Donald Trump would be considered college failures, says Grachan. Both Obama and Trump transferred institutions, which means the universities they began at had to report them as “failures to complete,” he argues.
Transfer students, like Obama and Trump, essentially become “data ghosts” because their outcomes aren’t tracked, says Grachan. And as institutions aren’t yet measured on transfer student outcomes, many schools have no incentive to boost their completion rates, argues Matthews.
In addition to being statistically invisible, Grachan identifies other obstacles transfer students have to wrestle with. For example, many students don’t know that some of their transfer credits may not count towards a bachelor’s degree. Many community college students lose time and money earning course credits that won’t be valid at their four-year college—and these challenges can fuel student attrition. Similarly, transfer students tend to receive less generous financial aid packages than prospective first-year students, he adds.
But colleges and universities may no longer be able to overlook transfer student success.
As the first-time, full-time student market dries up, institutions that target a waning population are going to experience diminishing returns on their investments, says Scott Booth, a transfer student success researcher at EAB.
Transfer return on investment, however, is strong—these students pay more on average, retain and graduate at higher rates, and are cheaper to recruit, he points out. Prospective transfer students “should not be taken for granted by four-year institutions,” Booth argues.
The four-year institutions that will be best positioned to receive transfer students are those that invest in academic pathways to minimize credit loss, provide well-conceived transfer event strategies throughout the year to communicate timelines, and offer resources to navigate the application process, explains Booth (Matthews, Washington Post, 3/15/18).