AEFP 45th Annual Conference

Toward a Meaningful Impact through Research, Policy & Practice

March 19-21, 2020

Exploring Reverse Transfer

Presenter: 
Andrea Chambers, Michigan State University, chamb371@msu.edu

Exploring Reverse Transfer
Andrea Chambers
Michigan State University
This is an exploratory study of undergraduate students who began their college careers at four-year colleges and universities and subsequently transferred to a community college, a type of student mobility referred to as "reverse transfer.” This work seeks to understand the motivations and experiences of a sample of the reverse transfer student population and reconceptualize current retention frameworks that are not able to account for this type movement.
Traditional views of college enrollment and retention assume two paths to the baccalaureate. The more traditional one, in which students enroll in the four-year institution directly following high school graduation, underlies most of the access and retention efforts and research, as well as how many policymakers understand college attendance. The other path is vertical transfer, in which a student transfers to a four-year college or university from a community college. This linear or vertical movement of students from community colleges to four-year institutions has been recognized as a major function in access and has been heavily studied (see Bahr, 2009; Bahr, 2012; Duggan & Pickering, 2008; Eggleston & Laanan, 2001; Flaga, 2006; Hagedorn, 2006; Hossler, Shapiro, Dundar, Ziskin et al., 2012; Ishitani, 2010; Laanan, 2004; Laanan et al., 2011; Lang, 2009; Sylvia et al., 2010; Townsend, 2001; Townsend & Wilson, 2006; Wang, 2009). However, a far more realistic pattern of current college attendance is referred to as “transfer swirl” (de los Santos & Wright, 1990) in which students move between four-year and two-year institutions. For example, a student may start at a four-year college, transfer to a two-year school, then transfer again to a second four-year college. Within that, “reverse transfer” refers to the pattern of students who initially begin their undergraduate education at a four-year college or university leaving to attend a community college (Townsend, 1999). Swirling and reverse transfer have received less attention in higher education research.
Reverse transfer students are often referred to as non-completers due to their lack of completing a bachelor’s degree before enrolling at a community college (Catanzaro, 1999; Kajstura & Keim, 1992; Winter & Harris, 1999). However, undergraduate reverse transfer students can have a variety of educational goals and reasons for the reverse transfer movement, including wanting to attain an associate’s degree or a technical degree or certificate, complete coursework necessary for transfer back to four-year college or university, the comparative cost at a community college is lower, and proximity to home (Catanzaro, 1999; Winter & Harris, 1999; Townsend, 2001).
The reverse transfer population raises concerns for several reasons. First, many of the students who reverse transfer struggled academically at their previous four-year college or university (Goldrick-Rab, 2006; Renn & Reason, 2013). Second, while 41 percent of students who reverse transferred eventually returned to a four-year college or university, only 22 percent earned a baccalaureate degree within eight years, with many taking longer than eight years (Goldrick-Rab, 2006; Renn & Reason, 2013). The purpose of this study is to better understand the reasons and experiences of students who reverse transfer from a four-year institution to a community college.
The study is guided by the following questions:
1. What is the educational background of students who reverse transfer?
2. How do students describe their experiences, both in and outside the college environment, leading up to the decision to transfer from their four-year institution to a community college?
3. For what reasons do students engage in reverse transfer patterns?
4. What are the educational goals of students who reverse transfer?
To answer these questions, I conducted semi-structured interviews with 10 students. All participants were students who previously attended a four-year college or university within the past two academic years prior to their current enrollment at a community college. Additionally, students were currently enrolled at a community college in six or more credit hours (allowing for both full-time and part-time students to participate) and not concurrently taking any credit hours from a four-year college or university.
The findings illustrate that these reverse transfer students have varied educational backgrounds, educational goals, and reasons for the reverse transfer. Additionally, the study reveals that the reverse transfer pattern is complex and often overlaps with other transfer terms, specifically the transfer swirl. Generally, the decision to reverse transfer was a positive experience and viewed as a form of academic advancement. The new information and alignment with current research have implications for graduation rates and practices and policies at the institutional, state, and national levels.

Poster: 

Comments

I had no idea that 14 percent of students engage in "reverse transferring", so I found your poster really informative! Did you ask your sample questions about their actual classroom performance relative to their expected performance? I wonder if not performing as well as expected is a significant driver of dissatisfaction, changing majors (or major uncertainty), and looking around for alternatives.

Hi Andrea, I think this work is really interesting, and such an important topic as we talk about the different postsecondary paths students can pursue. I wonder if it would be possible to sort of classify these transfers as being for a specific academic interest/program only offered at a community college, for an academic program at a lower cost, or for social connectivity. I think the policy recommendations that come with each type of transfer are different- for example, if it's about finding a major, that's potentially related to academic advising, while feelings of loneliness may be more in the purview of housing/student orgs/other support services that help students connect. I'd be really interesting in learning more about what sort of policy responses you think your findings imply for both four-year and community colleges. Thanks- Elise (eswanson@rossier.usc.edu)

Thanks for sharing your work! I always appreciate seeing more research on reverse transfer research. I would love to better understand how the participants were selected (was an email sent out? any snowballing?) as well as the approach to analysis (constant comparative?). I am also wondering how far along in their studies at the community college the students were. I wondering about this because I think it would help me with contextualizing the implications of the findings. Thanks again for sharing and let me know if I can be helpful in the future!

I am really glad you are studying reverse transfer students and I agree that they "have a variety of educational goals and reasons for their reverse transfer movement", including reasons that are positive and socially valuable. I fully recognize the challenge of getting lots of students to sit for these interviews. Yet, if there was a way to boost your sample size, I think that would help with confidence in your results and generalizability. Also, how did you identify these 10 students? Are these all (initially) from one geographic region or were they all at one 4-year university? I liked your concluding point that "the participants in this study did not label their reverse transfer movement as “backward” but rather described how reverse transferring gave them an opportunity to complete general education." It is easy to make the mistake of believing that 4-year college is the right path for all youth. marklong@uw.edu

I am really glad you are studying reverse transfer students and I agree that they "have a variety of educational goals and reasons for their reverse transfer movement", including reasons that are positive and socially valuable. I fully recognize the challenge of getting lots of students to sit for these interviews. Yet, if there was a way to boost your sample size, I think that would help with confidence in your results and generalizability. Also, how did you identify these 10 students? Are these all (initially) from one geographic region or were they all at one 4-year university? I liked your concluding point that "the participants in this study did not label their reverse transfer movement as “backward” but rather described how reverse transferring gave them an opportunity to complete general education." It is easy to make the mistake of believing that 4-year college is the right path for all youth. marklong@uw.edu

Add new comment