National AACRAO, ACE Study Explores Student Perceptions of Transfer of Credit Process
July 27, 2020

​A new study focusing on how students around the country experience the credit transfer process points to the importance of academic advising and clear communication from institutions.

College students today are highly likely to transfer institutions or credits. In fall 2018, roughly 1.38 million students were enrolled in postsecondary institutions as transfer-in students, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. A 2018 snapshot from National Student Clearinghouse data found that more than 1 million students, 38 percent of the 2.8 million entering college for the first time in fall 2011, transferred to a different institution at least once within six years.

How transfer of credit is handled is important to students. The study, conducted by ACE and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), sheds light on transfer students' opinions about the application and award of their transfer credit, including credit loss, the information that helped or hindered their decision-making in the transfer process, the barriers and enablers to their successful transfer of credit, and how they felt about the credits that did not transfer.

Key Takeaways

  • Most students feel that their transfer institution and their current institution have resources in place to help with the transfer process.

  • More than half of transfer students believe all of their credits transfer successfully.

  • Academic advising is an integral part of the transfer funnel, having both positive and negative implications.

  • Dual enrollment courses have a role in the credit loss story for almost a third of students who lost credit.

The study included 1,003 survey participants, with 65 percent of respondents currently enrolled at a public institution and 35 percent at a private institution; 78 percent transferred from a public institution and 22 percent from a private institution. Students were enrolled at institutions in 47 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Ninety percent were enrolled full time, 95 percent were between 18 and 24 years old, and 3 percent had military experience.

The authors wrote, “Understanding how students make decisions about the transfer process is vital to ensuring that institutions do not exacerbate existing inequities and inefficiencies in the transfer process when implementing transfer policies and practices. Similarly, knowing the reasons students cite for losing credits in the transfer process can help institutions anticipate and prepare for the needs of transfer students, reduce friction in the transfer of credit process, and improve the accuracy and transparency of information students need to make transfer decisions."

Authors are Wendy Kilgore, director of research for AACRAO, Steven Taylor, founder and CEO of ED2WORK®, and Karina Pineda, a policy research analyst at ACE.

The paper, “A National Snapshot: How Students Experience and Perceive Transferring Earned Credit," was commissioned by ACE, with support from the Charles Koch Foundation, as part of the National Task Force on Transfer of Credit and will inform the Task Force's final report to be published next year.