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Degrees and Graduation - Issue Briefs - Publication Number: IB01-1 (October 12, 2001)

Understanding Transfer Student Success Revisited: Transfer Students - Who are They and How Successful are They?

Nearly forty percent of all new UM students are transfer students Table 1 (Excel 39 KB.)  How likely are those students to graduate? How does their graduation rate compare to first-time freshmen?  This study examines those two questions in order to evaluate transfer students' role in the institution, UM's admission policy for transfer students, and UM's comprehensive enrollment management plan.


In 1997, a similar study found that the best predictors of graduation among transfer students were their GPA at the time of transfer, and students transferring to UMR. It also found that transfer minority students were less likely to graduate than white or Asian-American students. It also found that first-time freshmen were more likely to graduate than transfer students.

Research Questions and Methodology

Two research questions were central to this study:

  • What characteristics help explain a transfer student's likelihood of graduating?
  • Are transfer students more likely to graduate than first-time freshmen, when controlling for student ability?

Answering these question will:

  • allow evaluation of UM's admission policy for transfer students
  • assist in the development of a comprehensive enrollment management plan
  • highlight of the importance of understanding the role of transfer students at all institutions

Logistic regression was used to determine which student characteristics helped to predict a transfer student's likelihood of success, defined as graduation.

The study population included all degree-seeking, full-time transfer students to one of UM's campuses during the fall terms of 1991 through 1994. These students had earned at least 24 credit hours before transferring. The number of students studied was 11,150.

To address the second research question, first-time freshmen who entered the university during the fall terms of 1991 through 1994 were identified and tracked until they had finished their third semester, earning at least 24 credit hours. The total number of students was 16,936. The number of credit hours and the students' GPA were then used and compared to transfer students with similar credit hours and GPAs. These students were grouped into four credit hour categories (24-35, 36-47, 48-59, 60 or above), and four GPA categories (less than 2.5, 2.5 to 3.0, 3.0 to 3.5, 3.5 or above).

Student characteristics analyzed:
  • discipline of the degree sought or awarded
  • where the student transferred from
  • which campus transferred to
  • whether the student transferred from a two- or four-year institution
  • whether or not the student transferred in with an associate's degree
  • sex of student
  • age of student
  • ethnicity of student
  • transfer credit hours
  • The average age of those transferring was 21.9 years Table 2 (Excel 26 KB.)
  • Fifty percent of all transfer students came from two-year institutions Table 3 (Excel 53 KB.)
  • The average entering GPA was 2.8 (4.0 scale) Table 4 (Excel 25 KB.)
  • The average number of credit hours transferred was 56.2 Table 5 (Excel 28 KB.)
  • One in six students transferred with an associate's degree.
  • Nearly 54% of all transfer students graduated in six years or less Table 6 (Excel 16 KB.)
  • On average, transfer students took 2.9 years to graduate from the University Table 7 (Excel 18 KB.)
  • The majority of transfer students who left the University did so in the first year Table 8 (Excel 22 KB.)
  • Graduation rates: white Asian-American, 60%; (non-Hispanic), 54%; minority, 40% Table 9 (Excel 15 KB.)

In comparing transfer students with first-time freshmen, first-time freshmen were more likely to graduate than transfer students Table 11 (Excel 29 KB.)

Variables Table 10 (Excel 21 KB)

Positively Significant:

  • Transferring to UMR
  • Transfer GPA
  • Transferring to UMC
  • Female
  • Number of transfer hours

Negatively Significant:

  • Minority status
  • Majoring in a science-related field
  • Transferring from an institution in Missouri
  • Majoring in a discipline other than agriculture, business, education, liberal arts, science, or social studies
    Having an associate's degree
Discussion and Implications

Much research has been done on the assimilation of traditional first-time freshmen. This study highlights the need for further investigation and focus on the assimilation of transfer students, especially minorities and those majoring in the sciences. It also suggests that it may be important for UM to develop orientation programs that address the unique concerns of transferring minority students and for those transferring students majoring in the sciences.

Current assumptions expect students transferring from two-year colleges to have higher success rates than those from four-year colleges. The study found that transferring from a two- or four-year institution had little impact on the likelihood of graduation, except in the case of those with an associate's degree where it had a negative impact.

In recent years, first-time freshmen admission standards have increased while transfer admission standards have remained static. Concerns over the likelihood of graduation for transfers appear to be legitimate. In fact, the success gap tends to be widening.

The study's results reinforce the importance of collecting additional information about transfer students before it revises its transfer admission policy. Further, it suggests other factors be considered than the traditional admissions criteria, including transfer GPA.

Reviewed July 17, 2013.