December 6, 2023

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The consequences of the pandemic continue to complicate university enrollments – especially on the transfer side. Between autumn 2020 and 2022, the number of applicants for transfers fell by almost 7%, according to the latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Part of the decline can be attributed to declining enrollment at community colleges. Four-year institutions engage in what are known as upward transfers, moving to one of these campuses from a community college.

And they have upshifts experienced a sharp decline it has fallen by 14.5% since the outbreak of the pandemic, which means 78,500 fewer students.

However, other types of transfers, such as lateral transfers between two- and four-year institutions, are on the rise.

Editor’s note: Numbers in the charts below may not add up due to rounding.

Upward transfers have been hit the hardest during the pandemic

Changes in transfer registration by route

A common strategy for colleges facing enrollment and financial pressures is to recruit suspended students to return for their degrees.

Institutions should then have reason for optimism, as the share of students returning to college who transferred increased by more than 5% year-over-year. This led to an overall 0.8% increase in returning transfer students since the start of the pandemic.

However, it is noticeable that the number of transfers among students who were still attending college has fallen by almost 12% since the pandemic began.

The number of transfers has decreased for students continuing on to higher education

Changes in transfer enrollment by student type

Racial disparities are evident in the clearinghouse data. Asian and white students saw the largest drop in transfers since the start of the pandemic, down 14.8% and 12.2%, respectively.

The transfer rate of students identifying as races and ethnicities other than White, Latino, Black, Asian, or Native American increased by 8% between Fall 2020 and Fall 2022.

White and Asian students saw large decreases in transfers

Changes in transfer enrollment by race and ethnicity

Transmission patterns also differ by gender. Over the two years, the share of men transferring has decreased by almost 4% compared to the share of women, who have experienced a drop of more than 9% in transfers.

The same was true between autumn 2021 and 2022 – female transferees fell by 3.5%, while it was not even 1% for men.

The most recent data did not include categories for transgender or non-binary people.

Transmission declines more in women than in men

Changes in registration of transfer by gender

Only the youngest college students—ages 20 and under—were unaffected by transfer stress. The share of those students who transferred actually jumped about 9% since the start of the pandemic and is up nearly 8% year-over-year since fall 2021.

That’s where the good news ends. Universities lost transfer students of all other age categories. The sharpest decline occurred among students aged 25 to 29 — transfers among this group fell by 20.5% between fall 2020 and 2022.

Transfers among traditional-age college students are on the rise

Changes in registration of transfers by age groups

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