Report: White, high-income students overrepresented among transfer applicants

A new report from the Common App, an undergraduate admissions application that allows students to fill out one application and submit it to multiple member colleges and universities, finds that wealthy, white students are overrepresented among transfer applicants, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

“These findings are somewhat concerning,” the Common App writes, “given that the college transfer process should reflect educational mobility for all students, especially for historically excluded groups.”

Related: Coalition of elite institutions strengthening transfer pipeline from community colleges >

The report says it is the first of its kind. Until now, data on transfer applications has been largely unavailable to the public, which has made it difficult for experts to identify any barriers that might exist for these applicants. However, in its analysis of four-year aggregated trends among Common App transfer applicants, the organization finds that one-fourth of transfer applicants to member institutions were underrepresented minority students (URM) and one-third were first-generation college students. Just 6% of transfer applicants came from ZIP codes with a median household income in the bottom quintile, while 55% came from ZIP codes in the top quintile. The data also indicated that in 2021-22, over 40% of transfer applicants attended a community college before applying through the Common App.

Few demographic changes, despite platform changes

In 2018-19, the Common App, launched a platform specifically for transfer students in an effort to streamline and simplify the application process. In recent years, the nonprofit organization has worked to make its platform more equitable to applicants from low-income families, first-generation students, and underrepresented minority students (URM) by simplifying fee waiver eligibility, eliminating questions that asked applicants to explain the nature of their military discharge or for their disciplinary or criminal histories, updating its language about sex and gender, and ensuring applicants have access to Minority-Serving Institutions. However, the report’s findings indicate that, even with those adjustments, there has been little to no change in the racial, ethnic, economic, and first-generation composition of transfer applicants in the four years the Common App has collected data.

“Our analysis reveals that the majority of applicants on the transfer platform were from traditionally well-served populations,” the report says.

Related: Transfer process a persistent barrier for community college students seeking bachelor’s degree >

Aligning with national trends

The report’s findings reflect national transfer enrollment figures, which show a large gap between the number of students who intend to transfer and those who do and eventually complete their bachelor’s degree. Four out of five students enrolling in community college say they plan to transfer to at least a bachelor’s degree program, according to data from the Community College Research Center (CCRC). However, out of the nearly 1 million students who started at a community college in 2016, just one in seven earned a bachelor’s degree within six years, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

White students are also twice as likely to transfer as Black and Latine students, and students from higher-income households are twice as likely to transfer as lower-income students, according to the CCRC. The rate of upward transfers, or students moving from two-year to four-year institutions, has also declined since Fall 2020.

The Common App report “is just additional evidence that there’s a ton of work in this transfer space when it comes to supporting students,” said Trent Kajikawa, senior manager of data operations at the Common App, the Chronicle reports.

To help make the transfer application process more equitable, Common App is working to increase student awareness of transfer-guarantee and dual-admissions programs, which offer qualifying community college students automatic admission to participating four-year institutions. Those programs include ADVANCE, a dual-admission partnership between Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University that provides defined transfer pathways, coaching services, and access to resources at both NOVA and Mason, according to The Hechinger Report. California has also launched a new Transfer Success Pathway program, which will allow community college students to enter a dual-admission agreement with a specific California State University campus.

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