High school seniors aren’t the only students planning to matriculate in a new setting next fall. A surprising share of college students also plan to enroll elsewhere, fueling a surge in transfer student enrollments that’s occurring nationally and is particularly evident in Minnesota.
As the Star Tribune reported Monday, a third of undergraduates at the University of Minnesota started their work toward a baccalaureate degree at another institution. That’s the highest share of transfer students among the U’s Big Ten peers, but it’s not so unusual closer to home. At the seven state universities in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, 49 percent of those earning four-year degrees in 2013, the most recent year studied, attended more than one MnSCU college or university — not to mention those who started in a different system or at a private college.
Private colleges in Minnesota also enroll more transfer students than their peer institutions in other states save for New York, according to a February 2015 study by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. One in five students who completed a four-year degree at a nonprofit, private Minnesota college originally enrolled at another school.
For many students, those statistics signify positive change. A transfer can bring a fresh start, a sharper career focus or a more suitable learning environment.
For colleges and universities, the stats represent a test of institutional adaptability. Much is riding on Minnesota schools’ ability to serve transfer students well — academically, financially, socially. Schools are obliged to ensure that their policies governing transfer of academic credit are not unduly restrictive; that their financial-aid policies are realistic for older students; that their academic requirements and pricing policies are not punitive for those who don’t finish in four years, and that their orientation programs aren’t just for freshmen anymore.
“We’ve often found that the transfer experience is not as good as the freshman experience,” U vice provost Robert McMaster confessed to the Star Tribune. We suspect that could be said at many schools. The U’s goal is “to enhance the transfer experience,” he added. That goal should be widely embraced. Minnesota students are exceptionally mobile, and the schools that serve them must be exceptionally attuned to transfers.