Catherine Wherry of West Windsor Township, remembers anticipating the day that her college acceptance letter would come in the mail. Wherry felt if she got into her first choice school, Moravian College, then all of the hard work and late night study sessions of high school would have been worth it. She says she remembers feeling like if she got into her school, “Everything would fall into place…it would be perfect.”
Fortunately, Wherry got the letter she wanted. As the days of summer passed she bought a microwave and mini-fridge, and soon she was moving them into her new dorm room. But a little over a year later Wherry was back home. The college experience was totally different from what she thought it would be, moreover, it was financially draining.
Along with the financial issues, Wherry faced issues at home that made her feel she needed to leave Moravian.
“I do not wish to go into detail about my home situation but…your home life can take a toll on a student.” Wherry said. Ultimately she decided to finish out the year at her local community college.
What Wherry did is common among students who go away to college straight from high school. According to Scholarships.com what Wherry did is commonly known a a “reverse transfer.” Scholarships.com was created in 1999 to help high school counselors, college admissions officers and perspective or current college students find higher education funding and it is associated with The National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA) and The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).
Reverse transferring, acording to Scholarships.com, is what happens when students who attend a four-year school for a short while decide to transfer to a two-year or community college.
There are several factors that Scholarships.com suggests may cause a student to reverse transfer. The most common reason given are the financial burdens associated with a four-year program. Another top reason cited by Scholarships.com is the fact that many students choose schools for the wrong reasons, such as staying with friends or significant others from high school or choosing a particular part of the country but winding up at a school that doesn’t have the program the student is interested in.
A study by The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows the ways in which reverse transfering can affect degree completion. According to the Clearinghouse complete report published in 2012, “The data for this report were drawn from the StudentTracker SM and DegreeVerify SM services, administered by the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks 93 percent of college enrollments across all postsecondary institutions nationwide, including all institution types…”
The survey found that 14.4 percent of first-time students who started at a four-year institution ultimately ended up reverse transferring. Of those who reverse transferred, 16 percent eventually went back to the school where they started, and 28 percent transferred to a different four-year college eventually, but fully 55 percent never went back to a four year.
The longer reverse transfers stayed at their two-year college, the less likely they were to ever return to any four-year college. The study examined the six year out-comes of the reverse transfers and found: “Two-thirds of all reverse transfer students neither had a credential from nor were still enrolled at a four-year institution. However, one-third of reverse transfer students in the fall 2005 four-year beginning cohort either completed or were still enrolled at a two-year institution at the end of the study period. While conventional retention studies would categorize them as non-persisters, this result nevertheless shows that these students continued their postsecondary career and earned credentials in the two-year sector.”
The study differentiated students who took a few classes at community colleges over the summer, but did not withdraw from their four year institution; these students generally did well and accelerated their graduation, thus saving money.
As for those who start full-time at a two-year college, they certainly save money, but their chances of transferring to a four-year college in two or even three years are very low. According to Mercer’s most recent Institutional Profile data (from the college’s 2010 report which can be found on the New Jersey State Higher Education governmental website by clicking here) only 5.2 percent of first-time, full-time enrollment students graduate in 2 years. For those that stay at Mercer for three years, only 12.8 percent graduate, while 19.2 percent transfer. The graduation and transfer rates are highest for white and Asian students, and lowest for African American and Hispanic students who make up 35 percent of the overall student body.
When Wherry was asked what her advice for students starting out at four-year colleges she said, “Going away to college can be scary yet exciting, but don’t take it for granted.”