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Four reasons you should focus on transfer students

February 28, 2016

While nearly six million community college students intend to transfer, only a quarter follow through, meaning that four-year institutions are missing out on four million potential transfer students that fall out of the transfer pipeline. Our study, Paving the Path to Transfer, details eight practices for increasing transfer enrollment by reducing barriers to students.

Transfer students often face lukewarm reception on four-year campuses. They struggle to get answers to basic enrollment questions and are last in line for course registration. Enrollment managers can increase campus enthusiasm for serving transfer students by educating stakeholders on four key contributions transfer students make to four-year campuses:

1. Differentiated undergraduate enrollments
2. Bolstered tuition revenues
3. Increased campus diversity
4. Supported student success

Contribution 1: Differentiated undergraduate enrollments

The population growth that once fueled enrollment is gone for the foreseeable future. The number of high school graduates dropped between 2010 and 2014, increasing competition for prospective undergraduate enrollments. Although growth rates have since rebounded, they will proceed at a slower rate. Institutions must look to non-traditional student segments to differentiate enrollment sources and meet enrollment goals.

Community Colleges: A Sizable Source of Undergraduate Prospects

Community Colleges: A Sizable Source of Undergraduate Prospects

As shown above, 12.4 million undergraduate students are enrolled at community colleges; of these, nearly six million indicate intent to transfer to a four-year college or university—more than double the size of prospective first-time, full-time students looking to enroll at four-year institutions.

Download our study Paving the Path to Transfer

Contribution 2: Bolstered tuition revenues

A combination of increasingly cost-conscious consumers, demographic shifts, and declines in public funding make meeting tuition revenue targets both more difficult and more important than ever before. As a result, many institutions are struggling to maintain the tuition revenue growth rates required for financial sustainability.

Many universities mistakenly perceive community college transfer students as disproportionately low-income and in need of greater financial support. But a comparison of two- and four-year entering cohorts reveals that transfer students have:

  • Stable family incomes: Community college transfer students are primarily middle income, with 21 percent falling within the highest income quartile.
  • Outsized revenue potential: Transfer students tend to yield higher tuition revenue per capita and are often less price-sensitive than first-time, full-time students given the money saved by first enrolling at a community college.

Contribution 3: Increased campus diversity

Four-year institutions have long-held commitments to diversity and access but demographic trends only intensify four-year access concerns: the fastest growing student segments are most likely to enroll in a community college. African American and Hispanic students, for example, are more likely to attend a two-year institution than other racial and ethnic groups. Universities may need to increase their investments in community college transfer to achieve equal access to a four-year education for all student segments.

African American and Hispanic Students More Likely to Attend a Community College
Race and ethnic percentages at two- and four-year institutions, 2013

African American and Hispanic Students More Likely to Attend a Community College

Contribution 4: Supported student success

“Transfer students are proven. You’re not taking a chance with them. Once they come to a four-year institution, you know they want a degree.”
Frank Ashley,
The College Board

Administrators across higher education have been calling student success a “top priority” for years but pressures to improve success are growing. Community college transfer students, especially those with associate’s degrees, have already demonstrated persistence. As illustrated below, a transfer student is more likely to graduate than a peer who started at the four-year institution. High transfer completion rates ensure both a steady tuition stream as well as continued access to government funding in an increasingly performance-based environment. For schools looking to invest in student success imperatives, transfer students tend to benefit from such measures more than other demographics.

Transfer Students More Likely to Succeed Than Four-Year Natives
Six-Year Graduation Rates by Class and Sector, 2000-2010

Transfer Students More Likely to Succeed Than Four-Year Natives

Transfer students from community colleges have already begun their college experience and, for most, any remedial work has been completed at the two-year institution. Investments by four-year institutions in the preparation and pathing of community college students to a four-year degree will only further improve their likelihood to succeed.

Don’t miss out on transfer prospects

Learn more about improving the reception of community college transfer students and educating stakeholders about the contributions of transfer students to four-year institutions by reading our full study, Paving the Path to Transfer. Download the study.

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