We know that transferring among colleges, however popular it may be, is often a costly move for students, resulting in more time and money spent on the way to a degree. It also puts students at a higher risk of dropping out. And now, more bad news: New research shows that the career earnings of transfer students can suffer, too.
A working paper looks at students who had graduated from Texas high schools from 1996-2002, following their postsecondary paths and their eventual entry into the job market. For students at the University of Texas at Austin, graduates who had transferred into the institution from a non-flagship, public university earned 7 percent less than students who enrolled directly at the Austin campus right after high school. (When the authors didn’t control for demographics, college major, and GPA, the figure is 16 percent.) Some of this can be expected, the authors write in the paper, because “transfers tend to have lower academic achievement prior to college and to be from less affluent backgrounds.” They also tend to enroll in less lucrative majors, says Rodney Andrews, one of the authors and an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He wrote the paper with Jing Li and Michael Lovenheim, of the University of Tulsa and Cornell University, respectively, and presented the findings at the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) conference last week.
But there’s a caveat: For transfer students to Texas A&M University, the authors didn’t find a difference in earnings (without controls, transfer students were found to earn 7 percent less). Andrews said this could be attributed to differences in college majors. Students who go to Texas A&M—whether through transfer or not—likely go for its (lucrative) engineering and technical programs, which is why the findings may be less prominent there, he said.
While the differences are small, these findings call attention to the need for more study in this area. One-third of all college students transfer, yet we know very little about these students, their behaviors, and whether (or how) they excel. Understanding more about this large population and about how institutions can better support them is a necessary step towards improving our postsecondary system.
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