Report: Outcomes of Students who Transfer Backwards

Posted by Columbia University on July 4, 2016

Struggling students who transfer to a two-year college are no less likely than struggling, non-transfer students to earn a bachelor’s degree after they attend community college and move back to a four-year institution, according to a new study by Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. In addition, labor market outcomes show that transfer students do not earn any less than students who stay at the university.

Transferring from a four- to two-year institution is not a rare occurrence. According to the report, about 16 percent of students who begin at a four-year university transfer to a two-year college within six years. These students may experience more positive academic results and financial gains, especially for those who are struggling or enrolled in more structured programs.

“Students might have a chance of earning more lifetime earnings,” says Vivian Lui, senior research assistant at CCRC. Additionally, struggling students at the university level (those who earned less than a 3.0 GPA in their first semester) may recognize that transferring to a community college setting is much less expensive than staying at a four-year institution. Academics and finances contribute largely to students’ decisions to transfer, but other factors include commuting time from their home or the desire to be closer to family.

In 2006, about 237,000 students completed a four- to two-year transfer, compared with about 260,000 who moved in the other direction, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. To make transfers to and from either institution type easier for students, more community colleges and universities are establishing articulation agreements. Such policies can strengthen institutional relationships and ensure credits transfer smoothly between the colleges. But students planning to transfer should do their due diligence, too, to avoid losing credits – and tuition dollars – in the process.

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