Annual Eduventures® Transfer Student Research Report, Part 2, Examines Impact of Rule Changes When Pursuing College Students in the Transfer Process

January 28, 2021

Data Provides Retrospective View of Students Who Have Already Completed the Process of Transferring to Another Institution

Boston, MA – January 28, 2021 – ​ACT® | NRCCUA®, an educational data science and research organization, announced today the publication of a second in a series of reports focused on the transfer student process. The Eduventures Transfer Student Research Report, Part 2 provides a better understanding of the different paths transfer students take and why, and uncovers how these students experience the transfer process. For this purpose, Eduventures examined data from both prospective transfer students, those actively thinking of transferring to a different school, and retrospective transfer students, those who already completed the transfer process. This report explores the transfer process from the perspective of the latter group: undergraduate students who already departed their original enrollment school and are currently enrolled at their transfer school.

Understanding Prospective Transfer Students Impact on Enrollment Planning

Transfer students are an increasingly important population for many postsecondary institutions. They help mitigate enrollment attrition in times when many institutions depend on steady enrollment sizes. Many institutions, however, have seen their transfer application and enrollment numbers decline over the past decade as enrollment at two-year institutions shrank and more four-year institutions competitively recruited them. This environment is about to become more uncertain as institutions grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes in the NACAC Code of Ethics and Professional Practices. According to these new rules, schools are no longer discouraged to pursue their competitors’ students. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted student enrollment choices: in a recent Eduventures study we learned that one in five students was not sure about their return to school in the spring semester. Attrition and four-year to four-year transfer patterns are likely to increase as a result. Enrollment at two-year institutions, on the other hand, has sharply declined, diminishing traditional transfer student pipelines.

Key Research Findings Include:
  1. Retrospective Transfers: Vertical Transfer Students (Two-Year to Four-Year)
  2. Vertical transfers are highly pragmatic students who solidified their transfer plans early in their academic journeys. Practical considerations, including the credit transfer process and, especially, cost, are top-of-mind for these students.Motivations: 74% say they “always” planned on transferring to another school.Priorities: When considering transfer schools, these students cared most about whether the school offers their major (52%), whether credits would transfer (48%), and what the cost of tuition would be (42%).Concerns: Their top concerns before the transfer were not being able to transfer credits (41%) and graduating with more debt (40%). Most (70%), however, report in retrospect that their credits transferred as expected.
  3. Search Habits: They rely heavily on family and friends (48% retrospective) and campus visits (45%) to learn about potential transfer schools.
  5. Retrospective Transfers: Lateral Transfer Students (Four-Year to Four-Year)
  6. Lateral transfer students are driven by a dissatisfaction with their original enrollment school or a change in personal circumstances. Their primary concern is whether their credits will transfer.Motivations: Four-year to four-year transfers report a range of motivations: their original school was not a good fit (38%), or too expensive (23%), they wanted a better school (29%), their personal circumstances changed (24%), or they wanted to be closer to home (22%)Priorities: When considering transfer schools, they cared most about whether the school offers their major (39%), the cost of tuition (38%), whether credits would transfer (36%), and the location of the transfer school (35%). Compared to Prospective Lateral Students, they more often cited wanting to be closer to home (22% vs. 9%).Concerns: Before they transferred, four-year to four-year transfers were highly worried their credits might not transfer (48%); in hindsight, 37% wish that they had received more help with this process. 44% say they lost an average of nine credits they had expected to transfer.
  7. Search Habits: Family and friends are the starting point (52%) and most helpful source of information (45%) for these students, followed by campus visits (36% starting point, 39% helpful).
Areas for Concern and Opportunity

Research unveiled in this report indicates that many retrospective transfers wish they had received more advising from their transfer school. This indicates that while students are generally happy with their transfer schools, there could be a need for more transfer student advising. Retrospective transfer students also identified the credit transfer process as a key concern.

Schools that wish to recruit more transfer students should take note that providing stellar guidance throughout the transfer process to prospective transfer students may be as important as recruitment marketing efforts that tout the school’s value proposition to these students.

Areas in Which More Help was Desired – Retrospective Transfer Students

Source: Eduventures 2019 Transfer Student Research

“Transfer student motivations, concerns, and search behaviors differ depending on their school of origin. This calls for a more nuanced strategy than the homogenous approach currently practiced at many institutions. Certain themes remain the same for all transfer students, but they will require fine-tuning based on the target audience,” commented Johanna Trovato, Eduventures Senior Analyst at ACT | NRCCUA, and author of this report. “Institutions must be transparent about the credit transfer process, communicate paths to affordability, offer dedicated on-campus event (when possible) and virtual events and use their website as a starting point for connecting with prospective transfer students.

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