New Clearinghouse numbers show 7.9% decline in transfers

Student mobility during the pandemic continues to trend downward, especially for Whites, Blacks and 18-24 year-olds.

Transfer enrollment overall fell by nearly 8% year over year during the spring, punctuated by steep but not unexpected declines among community college students, according to a new report released Monday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The COVID-19 Transfer, Mobily and Progress First look Spring 2021 Report shows a nearly four times decline in transfers from the same period in 2021. The Clearinghouse noted the results were still preliminary, but that three-quarters of institutions had completed their reporting which accounted for more than a half million transfers.

The report is the third in a series provided by the Clearinghouse. Back in December, the transfer enrollment percentage was -8.1%. This one showed -7.9%.

Although transfer enrollment numbers remained level at public four-year colleges and universities (after experiencing a 4% drop in 2020), community colleges saw them drop more than 15%.

“Transfer enrollment declines this spring are largely attributable to lower enrollment levels last fall and a higher fall-to-spring attrition rate during COVID-19,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “As the pandemic continues to shift the postsecondary landscape, colleges and universities would need to address the needs of the students who are most impacted.”

Those most impacted include White and Black students (-14% and 11% respectively) and men ages 18-24 according to the researchers, while Latinx student transfer were the least affected. The 30-and-over student group notably saw a 7% increase in transfers at public four-year institutions.

The 2020 fall enrollment drops that occurred during the pandemic were partly to blame, especially first-time students from the Class of 2020 who chose not to enroll. Two-year institutions have borne the brunt of those decisions.

The hit to community colleges

Researchers said community college declines have been fueled by upward transfers (that is, from two-year to four-year institutions), which actually saw a 3% increase. Community colleges also have also been affected negatively by reverse transfers, which fell 21%. Lateral transfers saw a more than 9% decline.

The disparities can be seen in particular among 18-20-year-olds. The upward transfers for this group rose nearly 10% while their transfer enrollment to community colleges dropped more than 23%. Community colleges also felt the sting of a drop in continuing students, which saw a 20.8% fall year over year (compared with only a 2% decline in 2020).

“Four-year institutions have tended to maintain steady transfer-in enrollments amid the pandemic, with a growing number of continuing students transferring in from two-year institutions,” Clearinghouse researchers said. “Community colleges, in contrast, have tended to lose enrollments due not only to growing upward transfers, but also to fewer reverse transfers and diminishing incoming enrollments of new students. Although relatively few students transfer in the middle of an academic year, the transfer outcomes this spring is evidence that the impacts of the pandemic remain clear and are expected to continue.”

One telling statistic from a pandemic-burdened year is this: Students who stopped out and returned in 2020-21 returned to their college or university more than 60% of the time, a rise of nearly 2% over the previous year.

Private for-profit institutions, having experienced a 20% rise in transfer enrollments in the Spring of 2020, saw those figures plummet year over year and have seen a more than 17% decline in 2021. Their private non-profit counterparts saw a nominal 2.2% drop.

The Clearinghouse will be working on the final report over the next two months and will provide a complete picture of this unusual academic year during the summer.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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