Transfers among students fell 8.4%, but elite universities saw gains

Clearinghouse Research Center notes the potential aftereffects of COVID in report.
By: | August 31, 2021
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There are few unexpected twists in the final report on transfer students from 2020-21, released Tuesday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. But there are several trends likely worth tracking, especially into this year.

In the fifth installment of its COVID-19 Transfer, Mobility, and Progress Report series, Clearinghouse data shows that transfers overall fell 8.4% year over year. That number was slightly improved from the 9.6% projection back in June, before all institutions had finalized their figures.

Mobility slowed for most students after the pandemic hit, and the Clearinghouse was quick to point out in its summary that it feared we “haven’t see the last fallout from COVID-19.” Those transfer losses may continue to affect select students as well as institutions that have been hardest hit over the past year.

Perhaps the most prominent of all paths—upward transfers shifting from 2-year to 4-year schools —fell only slightly at 1.3%, a number that finished almost identical to the previous year. That was buoyed by those seeking new avenues at elite institutions.

“The bright spot for students is the increase in upward transfer into highly selective four-year colleges and universities,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

However, certain subgroups were not well-represented and persistence among those who did move dropped slightly at those top colleges and universities. Persistence was relatively stable in all other sectors. That sent up another warning from the researchers: “The magnitude of decline is still small but should be watched closely as a possible early signal of over-reaching.”

Although the most competitive, highly competitive and very competitive colleges gained transfer students, there were significant shortfalls among transfers to competitive and less competitive institutions. Those least competitive saw gains of more than 900 students in 2019-20 fall precipitously to a loss of nearly 5,900 in 2020-21.

Sizable gaps among subgroups also emerged as the year wore on. Black and Latinx transfer student movements were the hardest hit, falling by around 8% year over year. Transfers among Native American students and white students continued to wane, too, as they had prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the more notable data from the Clearinghouse:

  • Lateral transfers fell 11.9% after dropping 3.9% last year (more than 15% among two-year institutions);
  • Reverse transfers fell 16.2% after dropping 4.5% last year; and
  • Upward transfers: In spring, they increased by 0.9% after falling by 3.2% last spring)

Another disparity that is worth watching: Male students are not transferring near as much as female students. The decline in men shifting institutions was more than 12% year over year, while women fell by 5.8%.

While highly selective institutions saw increases of more than 10% overall, Hispanic Serving Institutions saw nearly 12% declines from the previous year.