College Students Who Transfer Often Lose Credits and Money

Posted By Terri Williams on December 21, 2016 at 4:38 pm
College Students Who Transfer Often Lose Credits and Money

Almost half of college students will attend more than one school in the quest to earn a bachelor’s degree, and there’s a link between the number of schools a student attends and how long it takes to graduate after a transfer.

A report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reveals the number of institutions attended by students who earned a bachelor’s degree from a four-year public institution:

Total School Time 1 Institution 2 Institutions 3 or More Institutions
4 years 43.40% 39.40% 17.10%
5 years 43.60% 39.70% 16.70%
6 tears 28.40% 44.10% 27.50%
7-8 years 15.40% 40.80% 43.80%
> 8 years 5.60% 28.40% 66.00%


At four-year private non-profits, the percentages are as follows:

Total School Time 1 Institution 2 Institutions 3 or More Institutions
4 years 53.70% 32.50% 13.90%
5 years 53.10% 33.90% 13.00%
6 tears 25.30% 41.70% 33.00%
7-8 years 12.30% 35.10% 52.50%
> 8 years 5.40% 25.50% 69.10%


At four-year private for-profit institutions:

Total School Time 1 Institution 2 Institutions 3 Institutions
4 years 51.30% 32.10% 16.60%
5 years 34.50% 37.40% 28.00%
6 tears 30.20% 36.30% 33.50%
7-8 years 29.10% 35.30% 35.60%
> 8 years 9.00% 29.40% 61.60%


While a considerable number of college students across the board attend more than one college in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, many don’t get to bring their accumulated credits with them.

According to the report, students lose an average of 13 credits after their first transfer.

  • 39% were not able to transfer any credits
  • 32% transferred all of their credits
  • 28% transferred some of their credits

The transfer credit problem

When college students lose transfer credits, they are also losing the time they spent taking these courses as well as out of pocket money or funds they received in the form of grants and/or student loans. Michael McIntyre, president and COO of AcademyOne, refers to this as a “transfer tax.”

McIntyre tells GoodCall, “We’ve actually testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about this transfer tax – what college students lose in time and money by not knowing which credits will transfer, and the pain experienced by students not having this information in a timely manner.”

So why are the transfer credit statistics so dismal? There are several components to this problem. According to McIntyre, if a student transfers to (for example) a school accredited by the Middle States Association and is coming from a private, for-profit school that is not a member of the MSA, there’s a good chance that some or even many of their credits won’t transfer because the schools aren’t part of the same association.

For one reason, McIntyre says there may be people at the professor level, but even at the institution level, who may believe their that their course is better than the same course taught at another school. “They may think that although the courses sound the same and have similar learning outcomes, our methodology is different, and we may provide more laboratory experience, etcetera,” McIntyre explains.

While this may sometimes amount to snobbery based on conventional college rankings, McIntyre says that in some cases, it really is difficult to determine how similar the two courses may be. And it’s a time-and labor-intensive process that may seem counterproductive to most schools.

Michael Falk, founder and CEO of the National College Transfer Center, tells GoodCall that this is a systemic problem and he believes that most institutions mean well. “However, it is financially impossible for them to take the time and amount of effort required to do an analysis of someone’s prior credits to find out if the credits are comparable,” Falk says.

At first glance, it still appears that schools could do more. Since it was time- and money consuming for students to take the classes, is it asking too much to have the courses adequately analyzed? Well, it might be. Falk explains that the ratio of applicants to enrollees at private institutions is 8 to 1, and for public institutions the ratio is 5 to 1.  So that really would make it cost prohibitive, especially if the student may end up not being accepted to the school or may decide to attend another school.

“So the transfer credit analyses are done after a person has decided where to apply, after the school has decided who to accept, and after the student has already enrolled for courses,” Falk says.

And McIntyre adds that even if transfer students send in preliminary transcripts, they won’t know how many credits will transfer until after they are enrolled.

McIntyre also provides two more reasons why a course may not transfer. “Schools have a limit on the number of credits that you can bring in; after all, if you’re going to get a degree from our school, we want you to have taken most of your credits at our school.”

In addition, McIntyre says that sometimes students change paths. “If you took classes for a particular degree, but now you’ve changed your major, then your courses are not applicable for the new degree,” McIntyre explains.

Admittedly, those are logical reasons for courses not to transfer.

However, Shelley Fortin, Ed.D, CEO of Community College Transfer, warns that there’s another way in which even applicable courses may be lost – even if the student has not changed majors. Fortin tells GoodCall, “Sometimes the credits transfer, but they don’t count toward the major – and some of them may have to be used as electives.”

Some answers

Some states are doing a better job of making it clearer which courses will transfer. “Florida is co-numbering courses, so if you take a course at a two-year school, it is the same at one of the state’s four-year schools,” Fortin says, adding, “In places where they do this, the transfer rate is better.”

South Carolina is another state making this information available to students. “The website allows a student to input the courses they have taken and find out which ones will transfer,” McIntyre says.  “They can input the 30 credits they’ve taken, select biology major, and the website will show them the colleges in descending order that will accept those credits,” McIntyre says. However this website only shows other schools in South Carolina, and McIntyre explains that most states with these types of websites only provide information for schools in that particular state.

A reverse transfer is a way for students to at least get an associate degree. Let’s say they started at a two-year school and transferred to a four-year school, but they never completed the four-year degree. McIntyre says a reverse transfer allows these students to transfer back to the two-year school to get an associate degree. “The U.S. as a country and the states themselves are falling behind, and to be competitive on an international basis, we need a workforce with some sort of post secondary degree,” McIntyre advises.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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