COVID-19: Transfer, Mobility, and Progress | National Student Clearinghouse Research Center


Transfer, Mobility, and Progress

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s Update on Transfer Students

First Two Years of the Pandemic Report

September 13, 2022

The disproportionate economic and health impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has on disadvantaged populations in the U.S. made navigating traditional transfer options very difficult as never before. Recognizing the urgency of COVID-19’s impact on students and institutions, the Research Center has been disseminating rapid response information to identify trends and raise areas of concern early enough for education and policy leaders to take corrective actions quickly.

This ninth report of the series summarizes the findings from two years of tracking transfer students and their pathways. Following the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021, many hoped there would be a return to pre-pandemic normalcy in the academic year 2021-22. Instead, the pandemic continued to impact transfer pathways, in some cases, at accelerated rates as our research reveals. This report series was created with support from Ascendium Education Group and ECMC Foundation.

As the ninth report in the series, this edition highlights notable transfer enrollment changes and student persistence post-transfer over a two-year period since the pandemic started, disaggregated by academic year, student demographic characteristics, and institution sector and selectivity. In addition to minority-serving institutions we reported previously such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), this report offers a new analysis of Rural-Serving Institutions (RSIs) to gain insight to how transfer pathways were impacted in rural communities over the last two years.

First Two Years of the Pandemic Report


  • Higher education experienced a total two-year loss of 296,200 transfer students, or 13.5 percent (nearly 200,000 fewer, or -9.1%, in year 1 and an additional -97,200, or -4.9%, in year 2). All transfer pathways were impacted. Transfer pathways into two-year institutions experienced double-digit rate declines (-21.3% or -113,300 in lateral transfer; -18.0% or -66,900 in reverse transfer). Transfers to four-year institutions also experienced steep declines (-9.7% or -86,000 in upward transfer; -7.6% or -29,900 in lateral transfer).

  • The student persistence rate one term after transferring declined across the board and remained below pre-pandemic levels. Year 2, however, showed signs of recovery among younger students (20 or younger), men, bachelor’s degree-seeking students, and at private nonprofit four-year institutions.

  • Students over age 20 suffered steeper declines, accounting for 85 percent of all transfer declines during the pandemic (-251,000 out of -296,200). These students declined at more than twice the rate of younger students (-16.2% vs. -7.2% for those 20 or younger).

  • White, Black, and Native American transfer students all declined precipitously over the last two years (-163,100, -16.4%; -54,800, -16.4%; -3,100, -15.6%, respectively). For Latinx students, lateral four-year transfers increased but upward transfers declined, and their persistence rates post-transfer declined.

  • The pandemic had differential impacts on transfer enrollment for institutions serving specific populations of students. Rural-Serving Institutions (RSIs) did not fall as sharply as Non-RSIs (-51,900, -11.1% vs. -225,800, -15.4%, respectively). HSIs suffered far steeper transfer enrollment declines than HBCUs (-102,400, -16.9% vs. -1,000, -4.2%, respectively).

The COVID-19: Transfer, Mobility, and Progress series has been redesigned as part of the Transfer and Progress series. See the Transfer and Progress report for up-to-date information on transfer enrollment.

View Previous Reports
Final Look Report (published May 3, 2022)
Report | Data Download (xlsx)
FALL 2021
Final Look Report (published January 19, 2022)
Report | Data Download (xlsx)
Academic Year 2020-21 Research Report
Report (pdf) | Data Download (xlsx)
A Journalist’s Report
Report (pdf)
Final Look Report (published June 3, 2021)
Report (pdf) | Data Visualization
First Look Report (published Apr 12, 2021)
Report (pdf) | Data Visualization
FALL 2020

Final Look Report (published Dec. 21, 2020)
Errata (April 12, 2021)
Report (pdf) | Data Visualization

First Look Report (published Oct. 27, 2020)
Report (pdf) | Data Visualization

Have suggestions for new analyses related to this publication?
Share your ideas here.

Subscribe to get the latest from the Research Center