Diversity and Inclusion in Law School and Higher Education

COVID-19: Transfer, Mobility, and Progress

Document Type

Issue/Research Brief/Blog

Publication Date



student attrition


Even before the pandemic turned the higher education landscape on its head, many college students intending to transfer struggled to manage the complexities of available transfer options, a task particularly daunting for underrepresented student groups. As prior research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows, Black and Hispanic students are significantly less likely than their Asian and White peers to transfer from a two-year to a four-year college as well as to leverage twoyear institutions in summer enrollment between spring and fall terms at four-year institutions (behavior known as “summer swirling”). Lower income students beginning at a community college also transfer at much lower rates than higher income students and subsequently graduate with a bachelor’s degree at only half the rate of their higher income counterparts, according to new research from the NSC Research Center.

Early disruptions in institutional reopening plans due to COVID-19, coupled with the disparate economic and health impacts of the virus across different populations, make navigating these transfer options even more difficult. Black, Hispanic, and Native American populations in the U.S. have seen disproportionately high COVID-19 cases and virus-related deaths compared to Whites. Some four-year colleges appear to be streamlining the transfer process this year in an effort to maintain enrollment and improve diversity amidst the pandemic, but the scope and impact of this trend remains unclear.

Moreover, typical pathways of transfer and mobility may be altered due to student concerns borne out of the pandemic, related to family finances, health, childcare, or a sudden need to move closer to home, circumstances that may affect the rate at which students transfer from four-year to two-year colleges (reverse transfer), for example, or within institutional sectors (lateral transfer). This research series attempts to quantify how the transfer and enrollment gaps by race and ethnicity and other student characteristics that existed before the pandemic may be affected by these disruptions.