More than one-third of college students don’t finish school where they started
In generations past, high school graduates often applied to a dream school and a few safety schools, waited impatiently for acceptance letters, and then committed to a school for life, taking great pride in identifying as a Wildcat, a Seminole or a Tar Heel long beyond college graduation. But increasingly, economic and educational realities have made the traditional college experience impractical for millennials. This means the population of students that go straight from high school to a four-year university and stay there through graduation is dwindling.
A 2015 National Student Clearinghouse Research Center study surveyed 3.6 million college students who started their undergraduate careers in 2008 and found 37.2 percent had transferred between universities. In addition, of the students who chose to transfer, 45 percent changed schools more than once.
For career college students, this percentage may be even higher. Because career college students are more likely to have had some college experiences and then a stint in the working world before returning to education, they’re likely to have some college credits but no degree. Yet this important group of students is still largely overlooked in career college recruitment planning, an oversight that is detrimental to both their college experience and your enrollment goals.
Additionally, while traditional transfer students aren’t likely to experience the same success as students who attend school in a more traditional manner, the opposite may hold true for those transferring to a career college.
A study published on Inside Higher Ed earlier this year found that while 60 percent of students who start college at a four-year institution earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, only 14 percent of those who start at a community college and intend to transfer to a four-year school do. Research from Columbia University’s Community College Research Center postulates the barriers to degree attainment are lack of early momentum, unclear transfer pathways and absence of actually transferring, perhaps because they aren’t encouraged to do so. Each of these barriers needs more attention — for the sake of your enrollment and for the sake of these students.
However, the report titled “Do Students Benefit From Going Backward?” found that reverse transfer students (those who transfer from a four-year to a two-year school) are more likely to complete the two-year college programs than peers who began at such schools. Why? Author Vivian Yuen Ting Liu noted, “Struggling students at four-year colleges may want to transfer because they perceive that they have a lower likelihood of success at their original institution. And, too, struggling students at four-year colleges have compelling financial reasons to transfer to two-year colleges.”
Finances aren’t usually transfer students’ only concern, either. Transfer students are more likely to be first generation, working full time, parents, students with high financial need or veterans. They may have unique characteristics that create challenges for their studies, engagement levels and your enrollment tactics. Here’s how to face those challenges head-on and make transfer students feel at home on your campus:
Including millennial transfer students in your enrollment strategy
Thousands of transfer students are considering their next academic move right now. Harness their eagerness to learn: Reach out, anticipate their unique needs, make enrollment decisions quickly and equip your staff with quick answers to questions. Then, get ready to meet a whole new population of students just waiting to call your campus home.
Trouble in the career college industry leading to more transfers
Recently, the Department of Education has forced hundreds of career college campuses to shut their doors, leaving more than 40,000 students without a school to attend this fall. Already, leaders at remaining institutions are opening their doors to these students, many of whom are looking for a new place to learn. “This was a very difficult situation that was thrust onto students at the last minute through no fault of their own. So we want to do everything we can to assist them,” said Linda Fossen, vice president of student services at Bellingham Technical College.
Consider making the best of a bad situation. Make sure your school is following regulations so you can remain a constant in the lives of your currently enrolled students, and do what you can to welcome last-minute transfer students.
"Whatever you choose to do, do not give up on your education," Education Secretary John King said to displaced students. "Higher education remains the clearest path to economic opportunity and security. Restarting or continuing your education at a high-quality, reputable institution may feel like a setback today, but odds are it will pay off in the long run."
Sidebar: Where do community college students transfer?
A study conducted by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE) found that, among students who transferred, Black and Hispanic students, as well as students who performed poorly and accrued fewer credits at community colleges, were more likely than others to transfer to career colleges than to nonprofit or public colleges.