Transfer students who attend full time complete a degree at higher rates than those attending part time. There were 2.1 million students who transferred into a 4-year institution during the 2009-10 academic year. At public institutions, which had the majority of transfer students (1.3 million) in 2009-10, 61 percent of full-time transfers completed their degree after 8 years of entering the institution, compared to 32 percent of part-time transfers (figure 1).
While NCES data users may be more familiar with the postsecondary transfer student data in the Beginning Postsecondary Study, NCES also collects data on this topic through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) collection. IPEDS annually requires over 4,000 colleges and universities to report their transfer data starting from enrollment to completion. As defined by IPEDS, students who transfer into an institution with prior postsecondary experience–whether credit was earned or not–are considered transfer-in students. Students who leave an institution without completing their program of study and subsequently enrolled in another institution are defined as transfer-out students.
Below are some of the key data collected on student transfers through the different IPEDS survey components:
- Fall Enrollment (EF): Transfer-in data
Collected since 2006-07, institutions report the fall census count and specific characteristics—i.e., gender, race/ethnicity, and attendance status (full and part time)—of transfer-in students.
- Graduation Rates (GR): Transfer-out data
Collected since 1997-98, GR collects counts of students who are part of a specific first-time, full-time student cohort. Data users can calculate the transfer-out rates of first-time, full-time students by race/ethnicity and gender for each institution that reports transfer-out data. NCES requires the reporting of transfer-out data if the mission of the institution includes providing substantial preparation for students to enroll in another eligible institution without having completed a program. If it is not part of the institution’s mission, an institution has the option to report transfer-out data.
- Outcome Measures (OM): Transfer-in and transfer-out data
Collected since 2015-16, OM collects information on entering students who are first-time students as well as non-first-time students (i.e., transfer-in students). Institutions report on the completions of transfer-in students at three points in time: at 4, 6, and 8 years. Also, any entering student who does not earn an award (i.e., certificate, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree), leaves the institution, and subsequently enrolls in another institution is reported as a transfer-out student. Click to learn more about OM. All institutions reporting to OM must report their transfer-out students regardless of mission.
NCES has been collecting IPEDS for several decades, which allows for trend analysis. Check out the IPEDS Trend Generator’s quick analysis of transfer-in students' fall enrollment. Also, the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative commissioned a 2018 paper that provides a high-level examination of the most common issues regarding U.S. postsecondary transfer students and presents suggestions on how NCES could enhance its student transfer data collection. For example, one caveat to using IPEDS transfer data is that information on where students transfer from or to is not collected. This means IPEDS data cannot be used to describe the various pathways of transfer students, such as reverse, swirling, and lateral transferring.. While these nuances are important in today’s transfer research, they are out of the scope of the IPEDS collection. However, IPEDS data do provide a valuable national look at transfers and at the institutions that serve them.
 A reverse transfer is defined as a student who transfers from a high-level institution to a low-level institution (e.g., transferring from a 4-year institution to a 2-year institution). Students who take a swirling pathway move back and forth between multiple institutions. A lateral transfer student is a student who transfers to another institution at a similar level (e.g., 4-year to 4-year or 2-year to 2-year).
By Gigi Jones