Transfer, Mobility, and Progress

National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s Update on Transfer Students

May 3, 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. While many four-year colleges expressed the need for facilitating transfer in an effort to maintain enrollment and improve diversity amidst the pandemic, the scope and impact of the efforts have proved to be limited. Our fall 2020 reporting in this series revealed major transfer enrollment declines at all institution types, particularly among Black and Latinx students, and we are continuing to track student mobility during the second year of the pandemic and beyond.

Recognizing the urgency of COVID-19’s impact on students and institutions, the Research Center disseminates rapid response information and context for the education community and individual learners seeking to understand how the pandemic is changing transfer pathways across higher education through summer 2022. The transfer pathways considered are defined broadly to include upward, lateral, and reverse transfer.

Informed by these data, campus, state, and national leaders will be better able to adapt and plan in the months and years ahead to deliver educational opportunities for the students they serve, particularly the most vulnerable student populations. This series is created with support from Ascendium Education Group and ECMC Foundation.

As the eighth in the series, this report provides up-to-date information about the undergraduate transfer enrollment and pathways for the spring of 2022, in comparison with the patterns in the previous years. It analyzes 11.2 million undergraduate students, including 630,000 transfer students, as reported by 89.4 percent of colleges as of March 24, 2022. The detailed data underlying the data dashboard are available for download.

Spring 2022 Highlights

  • Transfer enrollment dropped another 6.9 percent over last year, resulting in a double-digit enrollment decline over two years since the spring of 2020 (-16.0%). Non-transfer enrollment also continued a downward trend but at a slower rate compared to transfer students (-3.8% from last spring in non-transfer enrollment).
  • In major shift from previous years, upward transfer enrollment is on a steep decline. After remaining largely stable last year, upward transfers dropped 11.6 percent this spring. All student groups declined without exception, irrespective of age, gender, and race/ethnicity. The declines also affected all four-year colleges, regardless of selectivity level.
  • Four-year lateral transfer was the only transfer pathway to show growth, growing 5 percent to partly make up for enrollment losses seen last year (-8.8%). Four-year lateral transfers grew at very competitive and competitive institutions, after substantial declines last year (+4.7% vs. -11.2% last spring for very competitive and +7.2% vs. -12.6% last spring for competitive).
  • Transfers continuing from last fall decreased 5.3 percent while returning transfer students dropped 8.6 percent. Continuing transfers fell at public and private nonprofit four-years (-5.4% for public four-years and -9.7% for private nonprofit four-years) as well as at community colleges (-4.7%). Private for-profit four-years were the only exception, which experienced growth of 7.8 percent, recovering partially from last year’s steep declines (-9.9% last spring).
  • Transfer enrollment continued to decline for both men and women but at a rate slower for men and faster for women this spring compared to last year (-5.5% vs. -13.7% last spring for men and -8.0% vs. -6.8% last spring for women).
  • Transfer enrollment only grew among younger students (18 to 20, +3.0%), largely due to a growing number of students returning after stop-out (+14.3%).
  • Continued declines in every major racial and ethnic category throughout the pandemic resulted in a total two-year decline of 15 to 20 percent (-19.4% for White, -18.6% for Native American, -17.1% for Asian, -16.3% for Black, and -15.6% for Latinx).
View Previous Reports
FALL 2021
Final Look Report (published January 19, 2022)
Data Visualization | 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
Upcoming Reports
Summer 2022

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