Transfer & Movement in Higher Ed

TrainTransfer programs and processes help students transition from high school into college, as well as between colleges and universities. These programs and policies help to provide access for students who may not be eligible for admission to four-year institutions directly following high school, and/or students who may be unable to afford the cost of attendance at a four-year institution (Laanan, 2001). However, students encounter academic, environmental, social, and financial barriers when transferring between institutions. These barriers and their associated challenges impact the degree to which transfer students persist and succeed.

Franklin County is home to eight institutions of higher education, including six private institutions that offer baccalaureate degrees: Capital University, Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD), Franklin University, Ohio Dominican University (ODU), Otterbein University, and the Pontifical College at Josephinum. This report does not review Pontifical College Josephinum, because of the specialized nature of its instructional programs. Public institutions within the county that are part of the University System of Ohio (USO) include Columbus State Community College (CSCC), and The Ohio State University (OSU). CSCC offers associate and certificate programs; OSU offers bachelor degrees, as well as associate degrees at its regional campuses that are outside of Franklin County.

Who Transfers

The United States Government Accountability Office (2017) estimates that from 2004 to 2009, 35% of first-time college students transferred at least once. 62% of these students transferred between public schools, and most moved from two- to four-year public schools (pp. 7-8).

Transfer within Franklin County

transfer students walkingWith increased state-level initiatives, students who move from one institution to another are no longer a rarity in higher education. The Institutional Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) datasets indicate that during autumn 2016, almost 6,000 students transferred credit into Franklin County postsecondary institutions (IES, 2018). In a study of college transfer by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO, 2017), most students transitioning between institutions moved from two-year to four-year institutions, a phenomenon known as vertical transfer, and within public systems of higher education within the same state. The Ohio State University is the only public university in the county, and 43% of students who transferred within Franklin County transferred into OSU. Columbus State Community College is the only public community college, and welcomed 37% of Franklin County transfers. Franklin University accounted for 12.9% of transfer students, and the other private institutions accounted for less than 3% each.

Community colleges tend to enroll higher numbers of students from first generation, low income, and underrepresented minority (URM) backgrounds. While transfer students contribute to the overall diversity within each institution, the percentage of URM students in the incoming class of transfer students does not vary much from the percentage of those in total student enrollment. On average, Black students represented less than 13% of the transfer students in autumn 2016, Hispanic students represented 3.9% of, and Native American/Pacific Islander students represented less than 1% of (IES, 2018).

Common Barriers Transfer Students Encounter

Students often encounter barriers when preparing for transfer. They may find it difficult to obtain adequate information on transfer articulation agreements and advising, at both the originating and receiving institutions, to effectively plan for their transfer. This can result in loss of credits, additional time to degree, and increased overall costs (GAO, 2017). Transfer students may also encounter a phenomenon known as transfer shock (Bell, 2004), which includes a temporary decrease in academic performance, self-confidence, and motivation post-transfer. Additionally, transfer students may not find adequate support services, orientation, or assistance in navigating the bureaucratic processes of their new environment (Bell, 2004).

Transfer students and their receiving institutions may make false assumptions about each other, creating additional barriers that impact the transfer student experience. For example, advisors may assume that transfer students are experienced and need little assistance adjusting to a new environment, would prefer to have minimal orientation, and are most interested in planning academic coursework. These assumptions may lead to standardized advising practices that do not accommodate individual developmental needs (Bell, 2004). Students, on the other hand, come with assumptions that a new environment will solve past academic issues, and with preconceived notions about their new institution and their probability of success (Ward-Roof & Cawthon, 2004).

Transfer Credits, Policies, and Costs

Ohio State oval with tree lined pathsOhio Higher Education, the governing board for postsecondary institutions in Ohio, has prioritized and supported policies related to transfer within the USO. Private institutions are not required to participate in the Ohio Transfer Module (OTM) or Transfer Articulation Agreements (TAG), but should be encouraged to do so. While OTM and TAG set minimum standards for transfer coursework, both public and private institutions can and should develop specific pathways for transfer students that meet and exceed the requirements set by Ohio’s transfer policies. For example, CSCC has pathways relationships with all institutions listed above, and with additional institutions located outside of Franklin County as well. With rising concerns about workforce needs for employees with bachelor’s degrees, it is important to note that students who initially select a two-year institution must transfer to a four-year school to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Transfer agreements and policies are intended to promote transfer between institutions, and to reduce credit loss during transitions. Credits that do not apply towards degree completion represent a loss of time, tuition, and fees, and wages for students. Vertical transfer students, students moving from two-year to four-year institutions, tend to have lower rates of lost credits. However, even with state policies and agreements, the average student has to repeat 13 credits–the equivalent of one semester of full-time enrollment–upon transferring (GAO, 2017, p.15). The GAO study suggests that students still saved on overall educational costs even when they needed to repeat credits, because the lower costs of two-year public institutions offset the costs of repeating the courses at a public four-year institution. However, students transferring between institutions used higher amounts of federal financial aid than students who did not transfer, specifically Pell Grant funding. Transfer students used an estimated additional $1,600 in Pell Grant funding per student across 1.9 million students nationally, so the costs of repeated coursework impact individual students and taxpayers who are helping to subsidize or pay for their own education (GAO, 2017, pp. 8 & 27).

Remedial and Developmental Education

The need for remedial or developmental education is a considerable barrier facing students in Franklin County, and the percentage of students leaving K-12 education in need of remediation reflects K-12 district inequity. Community colleges shoulder most of these remedial/developmental education responsibilities. Information from the Ohio Department of Higher Education (2016) indicates that school districts in Franklin County are sending students to public colleges and universities who are enrolling in remedial math or English classes at rates from 13% for Upper Arlington, to 58% for Columbus City Schools.

Additionally, according to the Ohio Revised Code 3345.061 (2007), a “state university may receive state operating subsidies for academic remedial or developmental courses completed at the main campus for not more than ten per cent of the first-year students who have graduated from high school within the previous twelve months and who are enrolled in the university at its main campus, as calculated on a full-time-equivalent basis.” This policy shifts responsibility for remedial education away from the Ohio State University, and onto Columbus State Community College.

According to its website, Columbus State offers eight different developmental courses, two college skills courses, and a variety of support services. It also offers a learning community that consists of two developmental courses, which are grouped with one college skills course in a cohort model that is designed to integrate students into the social and academic environment.

CSCC also offers a form of co-requisite remediation, called “paired courses,” that allows students to earn transferable credit while taking remedial courses. This “paired courses” model resembles co-requisite remediation, in which students who are in need of remediation are placed into credit-bearing courses that are supplemented with academic support, as opposed to non-credit bearing developmental courses. At scale, co-requisite remediation has the power to improve students’ persistence and completion of college degrees–especially underrepresented students, but only state-level systems have access to the tools and resources to support the effective expansion of such a model, but at present only five states, Ohio not among them, have implemented co-requisite remediation at scale (Palmer, 2016). While co-requisite remediation appears to be more cost intensive up front, that increased cost appears to be offset by the higher rates of student success (Belfield, Jenkins & Lahr, 2016).

Conclusion/Call to Action

Nearly one-third of all college students transfer between institutions, and the Ohio Department of Higher Education has made efforts to try to positively impact the success and effectiveness of transfer among public institutions. These efforts include policies and guidelines surrounding the transfer of credits, and the offering of remedial education courses. While public institutions must adhere to guidelines, private institutions do not share this requirement. Transfer students can face additional barriers resulting from faculty and peer misconceptions about transfer students, and transfer students sometimes have misconceptions about their own needs – all of which can contribute to transfer shock.

There is a common misconception that transfer students may increase diversity within undergraduate student populations, but historical data from IPEDS indicates that to not be the case. We suggest that the State of Ohio conduct an analysis of higher education in the state to ascertain  (a) exactly what student populations are transferring, (b) institutional origins of transfer students, and (c) outcomes for transferring students. The authors propose that those with a vested interest in helping transfer students succeed pause, and gain a better understanding of the following, in order to develop future plans that will increase the effectiveness of institutional transfer:

  • Current baselines for transfer student retention and graduation outcomes;
  • Transfer agreements created directly between individual schools;
  • The unintended consequences of policies, such as limiting state subsidies to four-year institutions that creates a disincentive for offering needed remedial coursework;
  • Remedial/developmental course offerings and support models; and
  • The need for quality advising from both institutions involved in the transfer and the value of collaborative efforts in advising.


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  • Bell, L. W. (2004). Critical issues in advising transfer students: Student retention begins before matriculation. In B. S. Jacobs (Ed.), The college transfer student in America: the forgotten student (pp. 71–85). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Government Accountability Office (GAO). (2017). Students need more information to help reduce challenges in transferring college credits. Retrieved from: .
  • Institute of Education Sciences (IES). (2018). Integrated postsecondary education data system. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from:
  • Laanan, F. S. (2001). Transfer students: Trends and issues. New Directions for Community Colleges, 114.
  • Ohio Department of Higher Education. (2016). District Report. Data and reports: College readiness. Retrieved from
  • Ohio Revised Code. (2007). Chapter 3345.016 Sunset for state operating subsidies for remedial courses. Retrieved from Lawriter Ohio Laws and Rules:
  • Palmer, I. (2016). How to fix remediation at scale. Retrieved from:
  • Ward-Roof, J., & Cawthon, T. W. (2004). Strategies for successful transfer orientation programs. In B. S. Jacobs (Ed.), The college transfer student in America: the forgotten student (pp. 49–67). New York, NY: Routledge.