Report: Struggling University Students Benefit From Reverse Transfers

Posted By Eliana Osborn on June 27, 2016 at 8:32 am
Report: Struggling University Students Benefit From Reverse Transfers

Start your higher education journey at a community college, then transfer to a university for your junior and senior years. That’s the most common transfer pathway and is often touted as an affordable way to earn a bachelor’s degree. But a new report from CAPSEE investigates the 16% of students who enroll in four-year colleges and then “reverse transfer” to a two-year school.

The first semester of college is a challenging one, especially for economic or racial minority students. Previous research has shown that grades this first semester are a better predictor of college success than SAT scores. The Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and EmploymentTeachers CollegeColumbia University (CAPSEE) considers struggling students to be those with a grade point average below 3.0. This group is the focus of reverse transfers.

Do Students Benefit From Going Backward? reports that reverse transfer students are more likely to complete two-year college programs than peers who began at such schools. “4-2 transfer” students, as the report calls them, leave four-year schools and head to a two-year one at some point within six years of initial enrollment. According t0 author Vivian Yuen Ting Liu, “Struggling students at four-year colleges may want to transfer because they perceive that they have a lower likelihood of success at their original institution. And, too, struggling students at four-year colleges have compelling financial reasons to transfer to two-year colleges.”

Women are more likely to reverse transfer, as are students in health care related fields. Other findings indicate 4-2 transfers stay in school longer than those who are struggling but don’t change schools; 40% are still attending in their sixth or seventh years since starting school. The report says 39% return to a four-year school at some point in their educational career. As for outcomes, 33% earned an associate’s degree or certificate after reverse transferring, and 19% eventually receive a bachelor’s degree.

“Overall, the raw statistics indicate that a higher proportion of struggling 4–2 transfer students than struggling non-transfer students completed any college credential,” writes Liu. “The postsecondary credential attainment rate was 45 percent for struggling 4–2 transfer students and only 32 percent for struggling students who did not transfer.”

It may be better for students to reevaluate their college plans after their first semester. Too many are not learning from their struggles and finding campus resources to help them improve study habits, acclimate to a new environment and receive tutoring.

While this CAPSEE working paper looked at students from just one state, college counselors and advisors should take note. For some, transferring to a two-year school can alleviate the problems tied to their poor performance. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution, however, so individual circumstances are important.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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