Community Colleges Are Key Senders and Receivers of Transfer Students, Says Nat’l Report

Community colleges are often touted as a smart first step on the way to a four-year college, but they are frequently the destination of students transferring from four-year colleges as well, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse.

More than half of students transferring from four-year public colleges and universities and more than 40% of students transferring from four-year private nonprofits went to a community college. This is just one example of the variety of types and levels of institutions where students enroll on the way to a degree.

The Clearinghouse’s Signature Report #9 takes a national look at students’ enrollment patterns across institutional sectors and across state lines. With student-level information, the Clearinghouse is able to follow students through otherwise tricky patterns, such as concurrent enrollment or gaps in enrollment, to present a clear picture of the varied pathways students take toward a postsecondary credential.

In addition to highlighting the important role community colleges play in students’ pathways, the report finds:

  • Overall, more than one in three students who began college in the U.S. in fall 2008 transferred at least once;
  • The vast majority of students who transferred from community colleges did so before completing an associate degree;
  • Students who enrolled part-time during some terms and full-time during others were the most likely to transfer; and
  • Many students transfer across state lines: Nearly 20% of students who transfer from community colleges, 24% of students who transfer from four-year public colleges, and over 40% of students who transfer from four-year private nonprofit colleges left the state where they began studies to do so.

The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) recently used Clearinghouse data to examine these trends specifically for students who began studies at New England institutions in fall 2007. NEBHE’s analysis found that transfer is even more prevalent in the region than the nation overall, with 40% of students who started at a New England community college or four-year public or private nonprofit institution transferring at least once in six years. (For more regional analysis, please see New England Fast Facts: Student Transfer.)

New England states have made serving transfer students a priority via higher education systems (such as the Connecticut Board of Regents’ transfer pathways and Massachusetts’ transferrable block of general education courses), as well as individual institutions (such as the guaranteed admission and tuition discount agreements between the Community College of Rhode Island and Providence College). As higher education policymakers and practitioners continue to support and build on this work, they can look to Clearinghouse and NEBHE analyses as evidence of the critical importance of serving transfer students.


Gretchen Syverud is a policy research analyst at NEBHE.

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