May 2010

A periodic newsletter on a single topic of interest published by the Office of Higher Education

A Look at College Transfer
Public Community and Technical Colleges are a Popular Transfer Destination in Minnesota

Many college students transfer between institutions during their college careers. In fall 2008, 29,676 students entered a new institution, bringing with them academic credits earned from a previously-attended college. Nearly half of these students, or 14,622, were transferring into the state's two-year community and technical colleges.

For the same period, 11,709 transfer students were admitted by the state's public and private four-year colleges and universities, including the four campuses of the University of Minnesota, seven state universities and the state's private four-year colleges.

Statewide, student enrollment data is reported by colleges annually to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Transfer students are identified as students who enroll in a postsecondary institution bringing academic credits previously earned at another institution.1 Students are only classified as transfer students in their first term at the new institution.

New Undergraduate Transfer Students, Fall 2008

Source: Minnesota Office of Higher Education

The three Minnesota institutions that admitted the largest number of students with previously-earned credits in fall 2008 were the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minneapolis Community and Technical College and Normandale Community College in Bloomington.

Normandale's director of Admissions, Matthew Crawford says students transfer to his college for a variety of reasons and with a range of life experiences. "Transfer students are our fastest growing group at Normandale," he said. "Anecdotally, our college enrolls a lot of students who start at a four-year college immediately after high school and realize quickly that it is not the right fit." He said the enrollment numbers alone don't tell the complete story and that additional analysis would be useful to understand transfer patterns more specifically.

While many students pursue a traditional transfer path, starting out at a two-year college and transferring to a four-year college to complete a baccalaureate degree, the largest group of transfer students was the group moving from one two-year college to another.

Undergraduates Admitted as Transfer Students at Minnesota Institutions Fall 2008

Source: Minnesota Office of Higher Education

Transfer Activity Has Increased

The number of undergraduates admitted as transfer students in Minnesota has increased from 16,532 in 1999 to 29,676 in 2008. The rate of growth in transfer students was about double the overall rate of growth in enrollment for the same period.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system reported a 52 percent increase in the rate of students transferring among the system's 32 public institutions from 1999 to 2008. The implementation of the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum by the system, which facilitates the transfer of general education credits for a liberal arts degree, may have contributed to this increase. In addition, the recent growth in online learning has made students more mobile and reduced geographic barriers to postsecondary education.

Transferring From Two- to Four-Year Colleges

Minnesota's two-year institutions reported the fourth highest percentage in the country of students leaving without a credential, with a plan to transfer to another college.2 Minnesota's two-year colleges reported 22.1 percent of its first-time, full-time students transferred out within three years in 2007, and 24.0 percent in 2008.

The state's relatively high transfer-out rate from its two-year colleges is good news if students are transferring efficiently into baccalaureate programs without losing time or academic credits that apply toward their chosen majors. Without further study, it is unclear whether this is the exception or the norm for most students. Students who transfer out of community, technical or career colleges to change their program of study are likely to take longer to complete their degree than students who started and persisted in the same program at the same institution.

Transfer-Out Rates at 2-Year Institutions, National Comparisons 2007

Source: U.S. Department of Education, IPEDS Graduation Rate Survey

Transfer Activity Differs by Race and Ethnicity

Transfer patterns differed by race and ethnicity in Minnesota. Among students entering community colleges full time for the first time, Black students are consistently more likely to transfer out than students from other racial and ethnic groups within three years.

Further study is needed to understand this phenomenon. It's possible Black students are more likely than their peers to begin a baccalaureate degree at a community college, with a plan to transfer to a four-year college.

Graduation and Transfer Activity in Minnesota 2-Year Institutions by Race/Ethnicity 2008

Source: U.S. Department of Education, IPEDS Graduation Rate Survey

Most Transfer Early

Most transfers occur early in students' college careers. Eighty percent of students who enrolled as transfer students in fall 2008 were first- or second-year students. Only six percent of transfer students were categorized as seniors, or fourth-year students, when they transferred.

Year of Study at Time of Transfer in Minnesota Institutions Fall 2008

Source: Minnesota Office of Higher Education

Improving College Transfer

The credit transfer process has improved in recent years as colleges have designated transfer specialists on campus to assist students. Faculty across the state have worked together by discipline to understand, and agree upon where possible, course content and degree requirements. A common curriculum (known as the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum) is offered at every public and many private two-year colleges that, if completed, is accepted by most four-year institutions as the general education requirements for a liberal arts degree. A state website outlines transfer information for students ( ).

In addition, Minnesota, along with Utah and Indiana, received financial support from the Lumina Foundation for Education in 2008 to develop a process for defining and aligning commonly accepted learning objectives for specific degrees. Focusing on two disciplines, biology and graphic design, teams of faculty and students from public and private institutions convened to improve transfer in these two areas and develop a model for improved transfer throughout the state.

A February 2010 program evaluation of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities conducted by the Office of the Legislative Auditor cited the system had made progress in several areas to improve credit transfer over the last 20 years. However, the report also noted that college presidents and students still see a need for additional action to address credit transfer problems.

Citing complaints from students about credits not being broadly accepted at public institutions, State Rep. Larry Haws and Sen. Tarryl Clark, both of St. Cloud, co-authored a bill this spring requiring the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to draft a five-year plan to enable more class credits to transfer within the state system. Although this bill was vetoed, similar language may be contained in an Omnibus Higher Education bill prior to the end of the 2010 legislative session.



  1. Data on credit transfer presented here does not include data on new entering students who earned college credit in high school through PSEO, AP, IB or other similar programs. [ back ]
  2. Minnesota Measures 2009, Minnesota Office of Higher Education. [ back ]

About the Office of Higher Education

The Minnesota Office of Higher Education is a cabinet-level state agency providing students with financial aid programs and information to help them gain access to postsecondary education. The agency also serves as the state's clearinghouse for data, research and analysis on postsecondary enrollment, financial aid, finance and trends.

The Minnesota State Grant Program is the largest financial aid program administered by the Office of Higher Education, awarding up to $150 million in need-based grants to Minnesota residents attending eligible colleges, universities and career schools in Minnesota. The agency oversees other state scholarship programs, tuition reciprocity programs, a student loan program, Minnesota's 529 College Savings Plan, licensing and early college awareness programs and initiatives for youth.


Transfer Activity Has Increased

Transferring From Two- to Four-Year Colleges

Transfer Activity Differs by Race and Ethnicity

Most Transfer Early

Improving College Transfer


The Next Degree, by Casey Selix, MinnPost, May 6, 2010

Transfer Students Disengaged, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2008

The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College, U.S. Department of Education, Clifford Adelman


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Alexandra Djurovich
Research and Policy Analyst

Barb Schlaefer
Director of Communications