Community College Research Initiatives

March 27, 2018

HPTP Data Note 3: Filling Gaps about Alternate Transfer Paths

Transfer has become increasingly complex as higher education and student demographics change. Even so, most national datasets and existing research on transfer do not unpack this complexity or examine how race/ethnicity may impact the transfer process. In Data Note 3, CCRI researchers begin to fill these research gaps.

Research that does not allow for the disaggregation of transfer patterns by race/ethnicity, coupled with a dominant view of transfer as a vertical pattern from a two-year to a four-year institution only, fails to provide a complete picture of transfer pathways that include alternative patterns. As a result, we have a limited understanding of how students who pursue alternative transfer patterns differ from the traditional vertical transfer student. Overcoming these gaps in understanding is important to developing transfer policy that serves all students.

Using data from the Credit When It’s Due initiative, CCRI researchers Maria Claudia Soler, Elizabeth Apple Meza, and Debra Bragg applied an equity lens to their study of transfer students who engage in multi-institutional attendance patterns (MIAP). Their goal was to understand the characteristics of students following these patterns.

Defining Non-Vertical Transfer

Before beginning their analysis, the researchers looked to the literature for existing knowledge on non-vertical transfer patterns. Here are some key terms:

  • Vertical or One-to-One Transfer: Transfer from one two-year institution to one four-year institution
  • Reverse Transfer: Students who begin at universities and then transfer to community colleges (Townsend and Dever, 1999)
  • Swirlers: Students who move back and forth between multiple higher education institutions (de los Santos and Wright, 1990)
  • Multi-Institutional Attendance Patterns (MIAP): Unifying descriptor that captures transfer patterns other than traditional vertical transfer (Taylor, Jain, 2017). Scholars have found that this is a common practice, yet there is little understanding of which students follow these patterns.

Differences Revealed, More Research Needed

The initial findings from this study indicated that there are significant differences between the MIAP and one-to-one vertical transfer groups based on race, Pell grant eligibility, and remedial course enrollment. The researchers conclude more research is needed on the differences between these groups and how those differences should inform transfer policy. Data Note 7 starts digging deeper into these questions.

For more information on this study and its findings, download the full Data Note below.

Download Data Note 3

This Data Note is part of CCRI’s High-Performing Partnerships Study (HPTP) funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The study focuses on how higher performing transfer collaborations between two and four-year colleges and universities work on the ground. Researchers identified high-performing partnership pairs from a dataset collected for the national initiative on reverse credit transfer called Credit When It’s Due (CWID). Read the full series of Data Notes and more about the project here