Skip Navigation
small NCES header image

Statistical Analysis Report:

Transfer Behavior Among Beginning Postsecondary Students: 1989-94

June 1997

(NCES 97-266) Ordering information


This report examines transfer behavior among students who began their postsecondary education in academic year 1989-90, using the most current, nationally representative longitudinal data on student progress through postsecondary eudcation. Attendance patterns were examined through 1993-94. The following summarizes some of the report's key findings:

  • Of students who began their postsecondary education in 1989-90, almost half (45 percent) had enrolled as undergraduates at more than one institution by 1994. One-third had attended two institutions, and 12 percent had attended three or more institutions. Not all students who attended more than one institution transferred, however.
  • Thirty-five percent of all 1989-90 beginning postsecondary students had transferred by 1994.
  • About one out of four students (28 percent) who began at a 4-year institution transferred: 16 percent to another 4-year institution, and 13 percent to a less-than-4-year institution./1
  • Among students who began at a 2-year institution, 43 percent transferred: 22 percent to a 4-year institution, 15 percent to another 2-year institution, and 5 percent to a less-than-2-year institution./1
  • One-quarter of students who began at a less-than-two-year institution transferred: 6 percent to a 4-year institution, 12 percent to a 2-year institution, and 6 percent to another less-than-2-year institution./1
  • Students who transferred from a 4-year institution were much more likely than other transfers to enroll at the destination institution within 6 months of their departure from the first institution (68 percent did so, compared with 10-18 percent of students who transferred from a less-than-4-year institution). At the other extreme, nearly one-quarter of transfers from a 2-year institution were out of school for more than 3 years, compared with 2 percent of students who transferred from a 4-year institution.
  • Almost all transfers from 4-year institutions (97 percent) transferred without earning any credential. Among transfers from 2-year institutions, 78 percent transferred without a credential, and almost all of the others (20 percent) completed an associate's degree. About two-thirds of transfers from less-than-2-year institutions transferred without completing any credential, and the remainder completed a certificate.

Transfer from 4-year institutions

  • Among students at 4-year institutions, those with grade point averages (GPAs) below 2.50 at the first institution were more likely than other students to transfer (36 percent transferred, compared with 20–27 percent of students with higher grades).
  • Dissatisfaction with any of the following factors (as reported in 1992) was positively related to transfer from 4-year institutions: intellectual growth, teacher ability, institutional prestige, and social life. Of these factors, students’ dissatisfaction with their intellectual growth had a very strong correspondence to transfer: 63 percent of those who were dissatisfied with their intellectual growth at the first institution transferred, compared with 25 percent of students who found their intellectual growth to be satisfactory. At private institutions, students who were dissatisfied with the prestige of the institution were twice as likely to transfer as those who were content with the institution’s prestige (54 versus 25 percent).
  • The availability of various student services and students’ satisfaction with those services were also related to transfer from 4-year institutions. Those reporting a lack of access to job placement, job counseling, and personal counseling services were much more likely to transfer than were students on campuses where such services were available. Among students who used services such as job placement and academic, personal, and job counseling, satisfaction with the experience was related to their likelihood of transfer.
  • On average, students who transferred from a 4-year institution left 14 months after they began, and took about 7 months off before enrolling at the destination institution. Students who entered another 4-year institution (horizontal transfers) stayed at the first institution longer than did those who entered a less-than-4-year institution (reverse transfers), and they also took less time off before entering the destination institution.
  • Among students who began at a 4-year institution, those who did not transfer were more likely than horizontal transfers to have completed a bachelor’s degree by 1994 (63 percent of nontransfers had completed the degree, compared with 45 percent of horizontal transfers). However, if one combines bachelor’s degree attainment and current enrollment at a 4-year institution as a broad measure of persistence, the two groups have similar persistence rates.
  • Reverse transfer from a 4-year institution does not always signal a permanent abandonment of bachelor’s degree plans: 22 percent of reverse transfers had either completed a bachelor’s degree by 1994 or were enrolled at a 4-year institution.

Transfer from public 2-year colleges to 4-year institutions

  • One out of four community college students indicated in 1989–90 that they were working toward a bachelor’s degree (prospective transfers). Of this group, 39 percent transferred directly to a 4-year institution by 1994.
  • Among community college students identified as prospective transfers, those who enrolled full time in their first year were about twice as likely as those who enrolled part time to transfer to a 4-year institution within 5 years (50 percent of full-timers transferred, compared with 26 percent of part-timers).
  • Among community college beginners who transferred to a 4-year institution, 65 percent transferred without a degree. About one out of three completed an associate’s degree before transferring.
  • On average, community college beginners who transferred to a 4-year institution spent about 20 months at the first institution. They often took a considerable amount of time off between institutions, averaging 21 months.
  • While one out of four community college transfers had received a bachelor’s degree by 1994, another 44 percent were still enrolled at a 4-year institution, for an overall persistence rate of 70 percent. This is comparable to the persistence rate among students who began at 4-year institutions and among 4-year horizontal transfers.
  • The bachelor’s degree attainment rate was much higher among the minority of community college transfers who completed an associate’s degree before transferring: 43 percent of associate’s degree completers had received a bachelor’s degree by 1994, compared with 17 percent among those who transferred without any credential.


1/ Details may not sum to totals due to rounding and the exclusion of students who transferred to an institution of unknown level (see table 4).

PDF Download/view the full report in a PDF file.(323K)

HELP Help with PDF files

For more information about the content of this report, contact Aurora D'Amico at Aurora.D'

Would you like to help us improve our products and website by taking a short survey?

YES, I would like to take the survey


No Thanks

The survey consists of a few short questions and takes less than one minute to complete.
National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education