The Challenging Reality of Community College-to-University Transfers in Texas

One of the most important metrics for tracking the success of public community colleges in Texas is the number of students who start at two-year institutions and transfer to public universities. According to the Community College “Student Success Funding” formula that was directed by the Texas legislature, transfers carry the second-highest weight (3.0) in the calculation of success points, with “credentials awarded in critical fields” given the highest weight (3.25) in the formula. Out of the $157 million in student success funding allocated annually to public community colleges during the 2022-2023 biennium, almost $27 million was based on success funding for transfers to 4-year universities in Texas (THECB). Due to the importance of community college transfers for all of higher education in Texas, this blog post explores trend data pertaining to transfer rates (statewide and by community college district) and student credit hours (SCH) earned prior to students transferring to public universities.

  • Statewide Trends: As shown in the first visualization below, the overall transfer rate has increased from 25.7% in 2016 to 30.9% in 2021. Even with the steady increase, these percentages show that less than one-third of academic majors who start at a community college matriculate to a public university within 6 years of first-time enrollment.
  • CCD Transfer Rates: The Blinn College District has consistently been the leader in the percentage of students who enroll as FTICs and transfer to a 4-year university, as Blinn CD has been near the 50% mark for four consecutive cohorts. Collin County CCD has ranked second for the past five cohorts, with a peak in 2021 at 36%. The Lone Star College System have been in the top-two for the highest number of transfer students in each of the past six cohorts as measured by the THECB.
  • SCH Transferred: Community college transfers have been increasing the number of semester credit hours (SCH) that they bring with them when transferring to public universities. In 2021, 63.1% of CC transfers had earned at least 43 credit hours prior to matriculating to a public university, an increase of almost four percentage points from 59.5% in 2016. More than 83% of all CC transfer students in 2021 had earned at least 24 credit hours before transferring to a public university in Texas.
NOTE: The “Cohort Total” represents the number of students who started as first-time-in-college (FTIC) students at public community colleges and were enrolled in an academic major (as opposed to technical programs). The “All Transfers” is the number of students from each Cohort Total who enrolled in a public university within 6 years after starting at a 2-year institution.

So What?

While community colleges have a financial incentive to increase transfer to 4-year institutions, public universities in Texas rely on community college transfer students as a vital source of enrollment at the undergraduate level. In the past six years, the total number of first-time undergraduate transfer students at public universities in Texas has fallen from 55,060 in fall 2017 to 45,186 in fall 2022. While these counts include transfers from all types of institutions, both within and outside of Texas, the fact that public universities in the state have seen an almost 18% reduction in first-time transfers in six years should be of great concern for leaders within the higher education community in Texas. Building on the recent increases in 2-year to 4-year transfers, as shown in the data above, is paramount for future undergraduate enrollments at public universities in Texas, as institutions seek to reverse the downward transfer trend of the past six years.

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