Often in traditional, undergraduate enrollment offices, the primary focus for student recruitment is on new freshmen. They typically represent 75 percent or more of new student enrollments at many institutions. However, with the growth in enrollment at two-year public colleges during the last decade, treating college transfer students as an afterthought has been a missed opportunity for many campuses. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 25 percent of students who entered college in 2007 at age 20 or younger and completed a degree within six years did so at an institution other than the one where they started. And a third of all college students who began in 2006 transferred at least once within five years.
Enrolling transfer students brings a number of advantages to campuses. College transfer students typically generate higher average net tuition revenue than freshmen, do not create large pressures on housing, and enroll in upper-level courses that typically have capacity. These benefits should motivate campuses to shift the balance of new student enrollment to include a larger portion of transfers.
Changes in the higher education marketplace are making it more challenging to enroll transfer students. The combined effects of the declining number of high school graduates (and thus declining pool of available transfer students, delayed by a couple of years from what colleges have been experiencing in freshman enrollment) and the recent decline in enrollments at 2-year public institutions has made the transfer market increasingly competitive.
Engage college transfer students during the recruitment process, and maintain that engagement for retention
We often see institutions that execute best practices in transfer recruitment strategies, and others that have created an effective transfer-friendly campus culture for enrolled students, but rarely both. A transfer-friendly culture certainly aids in recruitment, and strong admissions engagement sets the stage for a positive campus experience. As it gets tougher out there, institutions will need to make sure they are “firing on all cylinders” to enroll and retain transfer students. Below are examples of best practices on both fronts. This is not intended as a comprehensive list, but if your institution is not engaged in many of these practices, it may signal that a review of strategies is in order.
Recruitment/yield strategies for college transfer students
- Dedicate admissions staffing for transfers.
- Reflect the “transfer voice” in direct marketing communications, on your website, and in your social media.
- Have an online, searchable database of course equivalencies.
- Cultivate active articulation agreements, including faculty partnerships.
- Offer timely (ideally “on-the-spot,” but at least within 24 hours) credit evaluations for transfer students at any stage, not just for admits.
- Offer visit opportunities geared for transfers, including events where students can apply, be admitted, receive a financial aid award, and register all in one day.
- Ground your transfer financial aid awarding strategy in solid data analysis.
Engagement strategies for transfer student retention and success
- Offer separate transfer orientation programming to foster acclimation and form connections.
- Make on-campus, upper-class housing available if needed.
- Create student activities specifically for transfers.
- Have tutoring for upper-level courses.
- Establish flexible credit transfer policies, as well as a core curriculum that is not so restrictive that transfers struggle to graduate on time.
- Train academic advisors and career services staff to provide counsel for transfers, including degree audits, as well as academic and career planning.
- Assess the motivations and needs of transfer students specific to your campus, so you can intervene and connect them to the appropriate resources (the Second-Year Student Assessment is a comprehensive method for surveying transfer students about their motivations).
For more on this topic, check out this report, The Attitudes and Motivations of College Transfer Students. It contains research that can help with both transfer student retention and ideas for recruitment communications.
What transfer-focused strategies have been successful on your campus? Please add to the conversation with your comments. If you’d like to further discuss transfer student enrollment and success strategies, email me with your questions or challenges. It’s not too late to make an impact on transfer enrollment results for fall 2015. Make sure that you have an active plan to recruit and retain this important yet often overlooked student population.
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