Gone are the days when most college students begin and end their college career in four years at a single institution. Many parents, and their students, still imagine that scenario as students engage in the admissions process and agonize over finding just the right college or university for them. They see themselves graduating from there at the end of four years.
We now know that fewer and fewer students are completing their college degree in four years. Five years is now closer to the national average, with many students taking longer than that. Now a new report has been released indicating that nearly 38% of students who entered college in 2008 moved to a new institution at least once within a six year period.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, a non-profit organization based in Virginia tracked 3.6 million students who enrolled in college in the fall of 2008. They looked at the number of students who moved to a new institution prior to completing their bachelor’s degree. Their findings are certainly important for institutions and policymakers, but may also be important in helping parents be prepared for that moment when their student may come home and say, “Mom and Dad, I want to transfer.”
According to this study, the largest percentage of students (36.6%) transfer during their second year, with another large group (24.4%) transferring during their third year of college. A surprising number, 53.7% of students transferring, moved from 4-year institutions to 2-year institutions; although this number may include what the report terms “summer swirlers” who take courses at another institution in the summer but return to their home institution in the fall. Another 25% of students transferred from 2-year to 4-year colleges, but only approximately half of those had completed a certificate or Associate’s degree.
This report tracked 2.4 million moves over a six year period in the 3.6 million student sample (with some students making multiple moves.) Two additional statistics reveal transfer patterns. Of the 37.2% of students who transferred during this six year period, 45% transferred more than once and more than 20% moved out-of-state.
There are a few factors, however, that parents should consider as they look at this data. This report makes no distinction between elite and non-elite institutions. Where your student attends school can make a difference in transfer rates. The report also does not distinguish age of student. Students who begin college immediately after high school and those who begin college as adult learners may certainly differ in their transfer rates.
Parents and students should also consider, during the admissions process, that students who transfer are not included in college completion rates. As you look at retention and graduation rates of colleges, keep in mind the high degree of movement by students – for many reasons – over which institutions may have no control.
Why should all of this matter to you as a college parent? It may not. Your student may be a student who finds the right institution, settles in to his major, is successful, and graduates in four years. Many, many students do just that. But being aware that nearly 38% of students are likely to transfer, will help prepare you if and when your student decides a move is necessary. Being aware of the complexity of student mobility, transfer, and movement, may help you help your student think about his path to success – and realize that he is not alone.
Students on the move may certainly be the “new normal” and parents need to be prepared to go along for the ride.