According to the Government Accounting Office, transfer students lose an average of 43% of credits through the transfer process, causing them to incur additional expenses of money, time, and energy toward obtaining their bachelor’s degrees. Research from Eduventures 2021 Transfer Student Survey™ shows a high level of student anxiety about the chances of credit loss; 41% of prospective transfers express concerns that their credits will not transfer to the receiving institutions.
But our data also reveals a lesser-understood gap in the transfer process: getting advising help from receiving institutions is what these students may have needed the most. Thirty-eight percent of already transferred students would have liked more advising support from receiving institutions.
Key Insights from the 2021 Transfer Student Survey
Our 2021 Transfer Student Research Report focuses on the motivations, concerns, and search behaviors of two different types of transfer students. These include students who plan to transfer (prospective transfer students) and those who have already transferred from one school to another (retrospective transfer students). This national survey of 1,245 students identifies how students navigate their transfer pathways, which include two- to four-year institutions, two- to two-year institutions, four- to two-year institutions, or four- to four-year institutions.
As part of this survey, we asked retrospective transfer students to identify the areas in which they would have liked to have had more support and disaggregated this data by demographic subgroups such as first-generation status, gender, household income, and race/ethnicity. We then ranked their responses by frequency.
As shown in the first row of Figure 1, the highest-ranked response to this question was receiving advising help from the receiving institution (highlighted in green for each subgroup). This response ranked higher than receiving advising support from the students’ former schools (33%) or getting credits transferred (32%).
Across the subgroups, the picture remains much the same: all but retrospective students from middle-income households (between $50,000 – $99,000), Black or African American students, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students felt they should have received more advising support from their receiving institutions. The highest response among Black and middle-income students was receiving advising help from the schools they had been attending, and among Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students it was getting transcripts to the schools to which they applied.
In contrast, support for transferring credits was the third highest response overall, with some subgroups, such as male students, non-first-generation students, students with household incomes between $50,000 – $99,000, and White students ranking it second among the things they wished they had received help for while transferring.
Key Takeaways from the 2021 Transfer Student Survey
While the analysis of this survey data is still developing, we can say that it points to a missing key piece in improving the transfer student pathway: the importance and role of the receiving institution. Transfer students may need help from the receiving institution to understand how prepared they are to succeed at the receiving institution or how far along they are from satisfying the requirements of their intended majors.
How might we increase the advising students receive from their receiving institutions? A report by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University provides excellent insight into the considerations advisors at four-year receiving institutions should address:
1. Commit dedicated personnel, structures, and resources for transfer students:
Employing advisors who dedicate their time to supporting transfer students and serve as “transfer champions” for transfer students.
2. Assign advisors and communicate essential information to prospective transfer students:
Having four-year advisors meet with students who are highly likely to transfer before enrolling at the four-year college.
3. Strongly encourage transfer students to choose a major before transfer:
Advising students to declare a major before transfer. Some institutions have found that students without a declared major are less likely to graduate than students with a declared major.
4. Replicate elements of the first-year experience for transfer students:
Creating first-year experiences for first-year students to increase their connections to the campuses and helping them develop skills such as critical thinking, time management, note-taking, research, and writing.
5. Exercise fairness in financial aid allocation:
Exploring ways in which their institutions can ensure that they allocate financial aid—often provided to incoming first-year students first—to transfer students.
The Bottom Line
Making the transfer pathway easier for students is a complex and wide-ranging challenge. As stated in a recent report by the Tackling Transfer Policy Advisory Board, the success of this effort spans the world of policy, strategy, research, and practices.
That said, while credit loss is an enormous concern for students, our data still reveals that receiving institutions can play a more significant role in supporting the transfer student pathway. Besides focusing on how best to target transfer students for recruitment—as we discussed in a previous Wake-Up Call—institutions should consider how to ease the transition to their institutions for their students and ensure that they have a “soft landing” once they have transferred. Without this consideration, transfers may face a more difficult path toward their goals of achieving bachelor’s degrees.
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Over the past three years, Eduventures has developed a behaviorally and attitudinally-based market segmentation of college-bound high school students we call Student Mindsets™. This year, the sample of nearly 40,000 respondents was drawn from the myOptions® database of college-bound high school juniors and seniors as well as institutional inquiry lists, allowing us to refine and validate the Mindsets in a national sample of unprecedented breadth and depth.
These market “Mindsets” get at students’ imagined paths through college by assessing the desired outcomes of college, perceived importance of college experiences, and key decision criteria at time of application.
The fundamental purpose of the Eduventures Prospective Student Research is to help institutions better understand how college-bound high school students approach one of the most important decisions of their young lives. For a teenager, the college decision looms as a complex make-or-break moment, a pivotal turn on an imagined path to adulthood.