Could COVID-19 end up strengthening the transfer pipeline?

Enrollment challenges intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic may end up opening doors for transfer students as four-year schools push to fill their classes. In a recent Inside Higher Ed survey of admissions officers, 90 percent said they were concerned or very concerned about hitting their enrollment targets at a time when COVID-19 is keeping international students from traveling to campus and causing some recent graduates to delay their postsecondary education. 

The survey also revealed that 78 percent of admissions teams are planning to increase transfer student recruitment—“a boon for students wanting to change schools,” Christopher Rim, founder and CEO of Command Education, told CNBC. Rim said his college consultants are “seeing a record-breaking number of students applying as transfer students to their dream schools,” even college juniors. “I have never seen this,” he added.

Transfer process, relationships even more important

Typically, students apply for mid-year transfer around October or November and by March for fall. And while four-year programs, especially at nonselective institutions, may have more spots for transfers this year, students may encounter extra hurdles as they attempt to select a school in a pandemic environment. Prospective transfers may be unable to visit campus and uncertain whether they’ll be learning in-person or remotely, and budget-constrained institutions may have fewer scholarship resources to offer, CNBC notes. 

Related: COVID-19 forces a closer look at the transfer student experience >

Looking to eliminate friction during the transfer process and develop a more robust pipeline of students, some four-year colleges and universities are accelerating their efforts to define relationships with two-year programs, Inside Higher Ed reports. Though some stakeholders have voiced concern about the potential for two- and four-year colleges to compete for students, rather than collaborate, as they fight for survival, experts think that a partnership approach will win out. 

“While colleges over all do have to compete with each other for enrollments at a certain level, in recent years we have seen a lot more growth in the area of partnerships, particularly between two- and four-year colleges, that have helped solve enrollment problems on both ends,” said David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling.      

Related: 4 ways to improve the community college transfer pipeline | THE FEED >

‘The last affordable route to a bachelor’s degree’

Effective coordination between two- and four-year schools on curricula, credit transfers, and costs will be increasingly important as families contend with financial strain amid the pandemic. “The last affordable route to a bachelor’s degree is the community college,” John Mullane, president and founder of College Transfer Solutions, told Inside Higher Ed. “More students will end up starting at a community college.”

Yet, just 17 percent of community college students currently go on to earn a bachelor’s degree, even though 80 percent say they intend to do so. Colleges that work to remove transfer hurdles, Mullane says, not only will help more students realize their educational goals but also “will be the ones to thrive.”

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