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Stats Watch

Observing Reverse Transfers

University Business, September 2012

Reverse transfers­—students changing from a four-year institution to a community college—are nothing new, but until now the phenomenon wasn’t well understood. “Reverse Transfer: A National View of Student Mobility from Four-Year to Two-Year Institutions,” a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report, dispels some of the myths surrounding reverse transfers so administrators can better serve them. The report examined first-time students who enrolled in a four-year institution in fall 2005 over the course of six years. Researchers found that 14.4 percent of the students had eventually enrolled in a two-year institution (outside of summer months).

“The majority of students who reverse transfer don’t return to the institution of origin,” says Don Hossler, report co-author and former Clearinghouse executive director. “I think that is going to surprise some people.” Only 16.6 percent returned to the four-year institution where they began. As Hossler points out, this is contrary to popular belief that four-year students taking summer classes at community colleges will return. “We have to make an effort to stay in touch and essentially re-recruit them,” he says. “There is no slam-dunk they are coming back.”

More than half of reverse transfer students did not return to any four-year institution by the end of the study period. “This report, more than anything else, emphasizes that state, federal, and campus policymakers don’t have the right numbers for creating incentives that capture students who will be attending multiple campuses,” Hossler says. Existing policies that reward colleges and universities based on retention and graduation rates are punishing community colleges and are not reflective of actual student behavior. Rather than fight against this trend of student mobility, the report suggests, campus leaders examine their own population to better assist these students in persisting regardless of where they land.