It’s been a full year since the coronavirus pandemic forced us to change our way of interacting with one another. We’ve learned new words, new habits, and most importantly we’ve learned how to adapt to (constant) unexpected changes. We are still perfecting our processes.
Let’s revisit a previous article where we presented transfer trend expectations using Great Recession data as a benchmark. However, experts at the annual National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS) conference in February agreed that looking back at data from the Great Recession wouldn’t accurately predict enrollment trends during our current crisis. In fact, trends amid the pandemic have played out very differently. Students have reduced their mobility by staying put and, in many cases, by not enrolling in new courses for the rest of the academic year.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, this resulted in a decrease of more than 8 percent in transfer student enrollment in Fall 2020 compared to Fall 2019. In general, as of October 2020, 76 percent of colleges had experienced a 16 percent drop of undergraduate enrollment, with community colleges showing the deepest decline at 18.9 percent, followed by public four-year colleges with a 10.5 percent decline.
In addition, student mobility in all transfer pathways has been a complex issue. This includes students transferring from four-year to four-year institutions or from two-year to four-year institutions, which both have seen a steep decline. The reasons for these declines are multifaceted. Institutions have had to overcome administrative and technological hurdles that weigh seriously on students and their families. Admission departments may need to reimagine their enrollment cycle, placing equal emphasis on supporting students applying for all semesters/quarters. Traditionally, students who transfer in the spring are offered fewer supports than those who enter in the fall.
Many transfer students are historically underrepresented students—first-generation, low-income, etc.—who need support to understand the nuances of applying and scheduling, and tactics for long-term success. COVID-19 has made things more difficult, as some students aren’t used to online advising sessions, aren’t aware of new credit transfer rules, and are burned-out by exorbitant screen time.
Part of the remedy is for institutions to provide reliable, transparent, and timely information about the three factors that are most important to transfer students:
—Tiziana G. Marchante
Transfer students who have submitted their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and are eligible for the federal Pell Grant may use NACAC’s Transfer Fee Waiver and submit it directly to an admission representative at the institution of their choice. If students are not eligible for the federal Pell Grant program, they may still submit the fee waiver by self-certifying that their annual family income falls within the income eligibility guidelines.
This waiver not only supports equitable access to transfer enrollment, but also reduces the hurdles students may face during this economic crisis.
NISTS recently released the Beginner’s Guide to Gathering Transfer Student Data on Your Campus to equip higher education professionals to work and advocate for transfer students. This guide is helpful for enrollment departments—and for institutional research, student financial aid, and campus administration departments, as well as your college’s grants office. It also helps institutions provide better student support through consistency, collaboration, and innovation.
Experts in the field agree that transfer students must be admitted using the same level of flexibility currently extended to high school seniors. This flexibility requires holistic admission review, not common institutional practice. The holistic picture can be completed via data and trends over time. The guide provides a basic step-by-step process focused on data collection.
© National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, October 2017, nists.org