Interstate Passport Briefing

National transfer patterns between states: why they matter

By Michael Torrens, director of institutional research and accreditation, Utah State University

My office has been spending time recently using the Interstate Passport’s newly expanded interactive website displaying student transfer data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. The data, mapping, and visualizations have provided us with new insight into national patterns of undergraduate student transfer behavior and given us new appreciation for the value provided to students through state-wide participation in Interstate Passport. This work has uncovered some surprising details in the patterns both inside and outside of Utah, which are shared below.

First, a little detail: the Interstate Passport Network is the only nationwide network of accredited, nonprofit, public and private two- and four-year institutions dedicated to the block transfer of lower-division general education attainment based on multi-state faculty-developed learning outcomes and proficiency criteria. In Utah, the state higher education system has done a lot of work on general education articulation. Utah institutions have common course numbering and sequencing for general education courses, state-level essential learning outcomes for each area of general education, and excellent inter-institutional coordination. Given this, one might question why the Interstate Passport – which provides for block transfer of lower division general education – would be so valuable for our schools?

The reality is that our in-state general education planning and coordination can quickly break down with students who are transferring into Utah from other states, or for our own Utah students who seek to transfer to institutions in other states. In many cases, these students may be faced with having to repeat general education coursework for learning outcomes that they have already achieved in another state. There’s a wealth of research showing that a major cause of higher education student attrition is being forced to repeat (and pay for) prior course-work, and data shows that transfers between states (in and out) are increasing.

What patterns are visible on this website, and what might they mean for other states and institutions considering joining the Interstate Passport Network? Some of the details are quite well-known. The top five states (in terms of transfers into and out of the state) are: California, Texas, Illinois, Florida, and Pennsylvania. But the details are interesting. Interstate transfers are only 17% of the volume of transfers that occur within the State of California, for example. But they represent almost half of that volume for Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Florida. It’s also interesting to go further down that list. The next five largest interstate transfer states (in and out) are: Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and Minnesota. In Maryland, for students who started in the 2010 Cohort, 8,132 students either transferred out of the state or transferred from other states to institutions in Maryland. This was almost 96% of the volume of transfers within the state. For Minnesota, interstate transfer was 72% (6,483 students) of intra-state volume. For Virginia it was 56% (6,592 students) when compared to transfers within the state.

The statistics are even more stark when one reviews states with lower transfer volumes. There are ten states where interstate transfers in 2010 represented more than 100% of the volume of transfers within that state: Arizona (106%), Hawaii (101%), Idaho (110%), Montana (145%), New Hampshire (151%), New Mexico (107%), North Dakota (334%), South Dakota (165%), Vermont (223%), and West Virginia (181%).

Even though Utah doesn’t make the top-ten lists, we still have hundreds of our students that transfer out of the state (861 from the 2010 Cohort) and in (489 from the 2010 Cohort). It’s been quite valuable to explore the website, and uncover which states are the largest feeders and destinations for our students. While the expected patterns are present (transfers to and from surrounding states, and California), it turns out that Texas is a particularly important source and destination for Utah’s transfer students, and Florida and Virginia are also feeders and destinations for interstate transfer students.

I encourage you to explore the details for your state to better understand the potential value of block-transfer of general education and participating in the Interstate Passport Network for your students. There are thousands of students who could potentially benefit from block transfer of general education, not to mention the value that achieving general education as a milestone can have upon student motivation and persistence.

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