The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently reported that transfer student enrollment has continued to drop year over year, showing a 10 percent decline. This is especially true for traditional college-age students aged 18-24, where 13.6 percent less students transferred to a college or university. Fewer students than ever before are successfully transferring between institutions. Notably, the majority of these transfer losses according to the same report are occurring at community colleges, which have seen the vast majority of total enrollment losses among all higher education providers.
This is troubling, as the impact to a student’s success, social mobility, and enduring the added delay of reaching individual college and career goals can be demotivating. Transfer enrollment decline can stem from numerous situations. Most recently a large portion of students are returning from taking a needed gap year due to socio-economic hardship or other COVID-19 pandemic factors. Regardless of the circumstances impacting an institution, educational leaders can do more to help transfer students.
Not surprisingly, most students are often unsure if they want to transfer. They may not be familiar with a new campus or programs. Many students worry about making new friends or adapting to a new environment. Additionally, many students have concerns about how many credits will satisfactorily apply at a different institution.
Each of these concerns can make students feel like the transfer process is too complex and intimidating, which leads to students ultimately giving up. Instead of making students navigate a complex gauntlet of processes educators are now making processes more welcoming for students. Institutions must do more to simplify complexity, remap processes and reduce any risk of students feeling fatigued and dismayed, or that they must complete the transfer gauntlet to “prove they belong” there.
Here are six strategies that can be used to help support and attract more transfer numbers.
Help students understand the transfer process
Provide clear guidance on what’s involved when transferring and simplify complex processes as much as possible. In addition, minimize paperwork and inform students more about what to expect concerning deadlines, which courses transfer, how many credits might be accepted and how long the decision-making process will take.
Too often, students are either confused by the transfer process or have no idea what is actually involved. This leads to students to either stay at their institution, drop out or take a gap year rather than pursuing enrolling at a new institution that could help them thrive. If institutions are going to reverse the trend of declining transfers, it needs to become much easier to do so.
Provide more information on specific programs
One of the biggest reasons that students choose to transfer institutions is because they find a college or university that has a program they want to major in. Another possibility is that the student might find an institution with a more competitive major that will better position them for the job market or grad school. Help students find information about the programs that make your institution distinctive.
If students are looking for a side-by-side comparison of what different institutions offer for a specific major, it doesn’t make sense to provide the same user experience that a high school student would receive. Transfer students are usually more targeted on what they’re looking for so an institution can position itself and information is provided quickly and accurately.
Be upfront about transfer credits
It isn’t helpful for institutions or students to be mis-aligned on which credits transfer or how much credit they count for. Students don’t want to retake classes or have to take a longer time graduating because certain classes didn’t transfer. In other words, institutions should not hide the ball. Instead, provide as much information upfront as possible to help students assess their transfer position.
Create processes that are easy for students to understand which credits transfer and how those credits translate that credit into the program. Institutions can clearly articulate which classes prospective students need to take in order to graduate or finish their major. This allows them to make better informed decisions on whether to transfer or if they should take classes at a community college to lighten their course load.
Clarify Your Articulation Agreements
Transfer credits aren’t always easy to map. However, many students are interested in finding the pathways that match their tuition budgets and schedules best. For example, when looking at enrollment pathway options, it is not uncommon for some students to take summer classes as the best option for their needs. In another example, some students may choose to defer their acceptance at a four year institution in order to complete needed prerequisite or other transferable classes at a two year institution.
While a lot of excellent articulation programs are in place, community colleges and state universities still have different requirements and course outcomes. These requirements often create a shifting landscape which can create confusion and complexity for students about which courses apply and do not apply. Students require a frictionless experience that demonstrates to them that institutions are welcoming and easy to navigate.
Always keep information up-to-date and rely on a single source of truth so students always know which classes will be accepted by your institution. Keep in mind that one size does not fit all for transfer students.
Explain the environment
Adult students in particular often seek to transfer credits, and may have different questions than a typical college student. The average student is likely committed to an institution on a full-time basis and have yet to start their career while older students are likely attending an institution to pursue a career change or finish their degree.
While working full-time, it’s not often an option to make in-person appointments with admissions officers. Adult students often have other demands on their schedule such as children or another job. They might want to know exactly how they can fit on campus and whether or not they can meet the rigors a program requires.
Higher ed institutions have a unique opportunity to flip the trend when it comes to attracting transfer students. But in order to do so, the process needs to change.
By highlighting the programs and opportunities that make an institution unique and student-centric, you can bring added simplicity and clarity to your transfer process.