Skip navigation
EAB Logo Navigate to the EAB Homepage Navigate to EAB home

Who are Gen Z transfer students—and three insights to recruit them

May 23, 2019

In an environment of increasing competition for first-time, full-time students, growing pressure on tuition revenue, and stagnant state support, colleges and universities of all types are looking to transfer students to help fulfill enrollment goals. Transfer students can increase diversity and bring in additional revenue, fill upper-division course capacity, and satisfy state goals and regulations. Institutions, both public and private, regional and selective, are reevaluating their approach to recruiting and enrolling transfer students.

To better understand partner schools’ transfer strategy, resources, and goals, EAB administered the Transfer Benchmarking Survey to enrollment managers at flagship and more selective colleges and universities. From this survey, we prepared a report of findings that flagship and more selective institutions can use to compare their transfer efforts to their peers and identify areas for investment and growth.

The survey report can also help regional colleges and universities see how their transfer processes and resources measure up and the competitive advantage they may have over more selective institutions. In many cases, regional institutions have stronger transfer pipelines and pathways in place. Here are three highlights from the report:

Finding 1: Untapped potential remains in the community college market.

Over half of survey respondents indicated that most of their transfer students come from other four-year colleges and universities. At private schools, nearly all transfer students came from other universities. These findings indicate that more selective institutions (especially privates) have a significant opportunity to enroll more transfer students from two-year schools. But administrators and faculty at more selective institutions too often assume community college students don’t have sufficient academic preparation or financial resources to attend their college or university.

However, Generation Z community college students are different than their Millennial predecessors. Growing up during the Great Recession and watching Millennials struggle with massive student loan burdens, these value-driven pragmatists (VDPs)—including those from high-income backgrounds—are focused on obtaining a low-cost degree.

VDPs are defined as having been accepted to a four-year college or university, but they’re drawn to community college because of affordability. They have a very specific long-term goal in mind: to obtain a four-year degree. Selective institutions can recruit this market by building stronger partnerships with community colleges to create pathways that make the most of transfer credit, reduce time to degree, and maximize affordability.

Determine the strength of your community college partnerships. Take our transfer enrollment diagnostic.

Finding 2: Public institutions give varying amounts of financial aid, while privates give more aid overall.

Nearly half of all colleges and universities surveyed provide incoming transfer students with $10,000 or more in financial aid.

When comparing private and public schools specifically, private schools in the survey sample offered aid packages of at least $10,000. This is likely because the cost of attendance at these private institutions is higher, on average, than at a public university. But the amount of financial aid given to students transferring to public institutions substantially varies. Most publics offer transfer students $3,000 or more in financial aid.

When planning financial aid awards, schools should consider that demographically, VDPs largely resembled typical four-year students, but they are very cost conscious. Elevate affordability and financial aid messaging in outreach to these students.

Finding 3: Transcript and credit review policies are difficult to find, and most official credit estimates are made after acceptance.

When it comes to researching transfer options, value-driven pragmatists rely heavily on online resources, including college web pages and internet searches. VDPs are much more likely to engage in self-service modes of information gathering (e.g., internet research, peer networks) than rely on institutional outreach (e.g., advising, targeted marketing). This likely reflects their extreme familiarity with online resources and increases the pressure on colleges to establish an engaging and informative digital brand.

Most colleges and universities that participated in the transfer benchmarking survey don’t have the online presence or tools that would engage value-driven pragmatists. Fewer than one quarter of institutions reported having easy-to-find credit recognition and transcript review policies for prospective transfer students online.

Providing credit articulation estimates quickly and accurately is another key element of making the transfer process easier for prospective students. But just half of participating institutions consistently provide unofficial credit estimates prior to enrollment deposit.

Colleges and universities interested in better engaging and recruiting VDPs should continue to invest in online, self-service transfer tools that make it easy for prospective transfers to calculate how many credits will transfer and apply toward their major of study.

Learn how DePaul University increased coordination between academic units and admissions staff by developing a low-cost credit equivalency estimator.

Compare your transfer efforts

Explore more insights from the survey data and see how your institution’s transfer policies stack up by downloading the full survey report.

More Blogs


Grow transfer enrollment by addressing prospects’ key concerns

Discover how one institution stands out in the transfer market by answering prospective transfer students' questions before they're…

Four reasons you should focus on transfer students

Discover how enrollment managers are growing transfer enrollment by educating stakeholders on their unique value.

Help faculty embrace transfer-friendly credit articulation

Discover three ways enrollment managers collaborate with faculty to better serve transfer students without a major overhaul of…