If you have been following recent higher education-related news and headlines, you are likely aware that the trends in student transfers are alarming, especially in terms of community college to university transfers. Within Texas, the number of first-time transfer students enrolling at public universities has fallen from almost 52,000 in fall 2014 to below 50,500 in fall 2020. In fall 2014, first-time transfer students comprised almost 40% of new incoming students. In fall 2020, that percentage of representation fell to 36.5%. From a peak of first-time transfers of 55,060 in 2017, Texas public universities experienced a drop of 8.3-percent by fall 2020.
While concerns certainly exist on the front-end of the transfer pipeline, there is also great interest in how effectively and efficiently public universities in Texas are getting transfer students to the finish line in terms of earning a bachelor’s degree within a timely manner. In response to a legislative mandate, a recent report published by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) addressed gaps in graduation outcomes for transfer students when comparing them with native students. The following blog post will explore the data presented in the THECB report, as well as provide additional data that might explain initial findings in the outcomes data.
The THECB’s report primarily presented data related to improving outcomes for transfer students. In order to contextualize these outcomes, the THECB created cohorts for native students (those who were first-time-in-college enrollees at a particular institution) and transfer students. The cohort was based on those students who achieved junior classification status in fall 2016. These cohorts were tracked through 2020 to determine metrics for each cohort, including four-year graduation rates, time-to-degree in years, and student credit hours (SCH) attempted.
By way of clarification…
Time-to-Degree in Years
Semester Credit Hours (SCH) Attempted by Graduates
One of the takeaways from the combination of metrics included in the THECB report is the seemingly misaligned findings of time-to-degree and SCH attempted. As a state, transfer students in the junior cohort attempt approximately 2 more courses (7.2 SCH) in earning their undergraduate degree when compared to native students. However, on average, it takes transfer students more than 2 additional years of study to complete their degrees than their native student counterparts. Why is that?
One of the possible indicators of why this discrepancy exists between time-to-degree and SCH can be seen in the volume of courses taken each semester. Based on data pulled from the THECB’s Accountability System Interactive Portal, the data below show that more than 77% of degree-seeking students at public community colleges in Texas enroll as part-time students (taking fewer than 12 hours in the fall semester), while less than 22% of degree-seeking undergraduate students at Texas public universities are enrolled as part-time students. While admittedly a multifaceted issue, the vast disparity in enrollment intensity between community college transfer students and native university students may provide an initial explanation as to why the average SCH attempted is relatively close between cohorts, but the time-to-degree in years is so much higher when comparing native and transfer students in the THECB junior cohort analysis.