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Transfer Enrollment Stabilized in Fall 2021

January 20, 2022

Transfer enrollment stabilized in fall 2021 compared to its steep drop the year prior, according to a new report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The report, which analyzed over 12 million undergraduate students, including 1.3 million transfer students, found that transfer student enrollment dropped less than 1 percent—11,300 students—last fall, while nontransfer enrollment declined 4.1 percent. In fall 2020, transfer enrollment declined 9.2 percent, or 137,000 students, compared to 2.3 percent for nontransfer students. Among continuing students, transfers actually increased 2.3 percent in fall 2021 but declined 5.8 percent among students transferring from a stop-out.

The economic and health impacts of the pandemic made navigating the transfer process “very difficult as never before,” the report said. Additionally, while four-year institutions expressed the need for transfers to help them maintain enrollment and diversity in the pandemic, the research center said, “The scope and impact of the efforts have proved to be limited.”

The only age group to experience enrollment growth was transfer students between 18 and 20, which saw a 13.6 percent increase in enrollment compared to a decline of 8.7 percent in fall 2020, the report found. Private, nonprofit four-year institutions saw the highest increase in transfers at 7.7 percent, followed by public four-year institutions at 1.5 percent.

Upward transfer enrollment, meaning students going from two-year institutions to four-year institutions, increased at “very competitive colleges” in fall 2021, the report states, with a 4 percent increase, or more than 5,000 students. However, upward transfers at highly selective institutions grew more slowly than last year, at 2.7 percent compared to 9.5 percent in fall 2020. Four-year lateral transfers, meaning students transferring from one four-year institution to another four-year institution, saw between 5 and 6 percent growth at “very competitive” and “competitive” institutions, an increase of over 9,200 students in total. Reverse transfer student enrollment—those who start at a four-year institution and transfer to a two-year institution—stayed stable with a 0.9 percent decrease, compared to a decrease of 17.5 percent in fall 2020.

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