The pandemic’s effects continue to scramble college enrollments — particularly on the transfer side. Between fall 2020 and 2022, transfer enrollments fell nearly 7%, according to the latest data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Some of the dropoff can be attributed to shrinking enrollment at community colleges. Four-year institutions are concerned with what’s known as upward transfers, a move to one of those campuses from a community college.
And upward transfers have experienced a steep decline since the onset of the pandemic, plunging 14.5%, translating to 78,500 fewer students.
Other types of transfers, like lateral moves between two- and four-year institutions, are rising, however.
Editor’s note: Numbers in the charts below may not add up due to rounding.
Upward transfers have been hit hardest during the pandemic
Changes in transfer enrollment by pathway
A common strategy for colleges facing enrollment and financial crunches is recruiting stopped-out students who could return for their degrees.
Institutions should have some reason for optimism then, as the share of students returning to college who transferred shot up by more than 5% year over year. This resulted in an overall 0.8% increase in returning student transfers since the pandemic began.
Noticeably, though, transfer enrollments among students who were still attending college have fallen by almost 12% since the pandemic’s onset.
Transfer numbers dropped for students continuing their college education
Changes in transfer enrollment by student type
Racial disparities are evident in clearinghouse data. Asian and White students experienced the largest transfer declines since the pandemic started — drops of 14.8% and 12.2%, respectively.
The transfer rate for students identified as races and ethnicities other than White, Latinx, Black, Asian or Native American rose 8% between fall 2020 and fall 2022.
White and Asian students experienced major transfer declines
Changes in transfer enrollment by race and ethnicity
Transfer patterns also vary by gender. Over two years, the share of men transferring shrunk by almost 4%, compared to the share of women, who saw a more than 9% decline in transfers.
The same held true between fall 2021 and 2022 — women who transferred fell by 3.5%, versus not even a 1% decline among men.
The latest data did not include categories for transgender or nonbinary people.
Transfer declines greater among women than men
Changes in transfer enrollment by gender
Only the youngest college students — those ages 20 and under — were not affected by the stress on transfers. The share of those students transferring actually jumped by about 9% since the pandemic began, and it increased nearly 8% year over year from fall 2021.
The good news stops there. Colleges lost transfer students of all other ages. The most pronounced drop occurred among students ages 25 to 29 — transfers among that group declined by 20.5% between fall 2020 and 2022.
Transfers among traditional-age college students are up
Changes in transfer enrollment by age group