Community College Reverse Transfer Students: A Field Survey of a Nontraditional Student Group

By Winter, Paul A.; Harris, Michael R. | Community College Review, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Community College Reverse Transfer Students: A Field Survey of a Nontraditional Student Group


Winter, Paul A., Harris, Michael R., Community College Review


Data from a 54-item survey directed at reverse transfer students in the University of Kentucky Community College System was analyzed based on responses from two subgroups: 734 completers (those who had completed a baccalaureate) and 148 noncompleters. Chi square and t tests indicated statistically significant differences between completers and noncompleters as to race and marital status, age, number of dependents, number of credit hours, and grade point average. The data also revealed differences between the two groups as to reasons for enrollment and current goals. The authors discuss the resulting profile of reverse transfers in a student services context.

Community college educators have been aware for more than two decades that the profile of community college students is undergoing steady and profound change. A facet of this change has been that students described as "nontraditional" constitute an increasing proportion of the student population. Nontraditional students (Cohen & Brawer, 1996) are individuals who do not conform to the profile of the traditional 18-year-old student who enrolls full-time at a community college, completes the freshman and sophomore years, and transfers to a four-year college to earn a baccalaureate degree.

Cohen and Brawer (1996) noted various changes that during the period 1970 to 1994 affected the, nontraditional student population: (a) the mean age for students increased from 27 in 1980 to more than 31 by 1993 as large numbers of adult learners returned to college to acquire and upgrade skills; (b) females, many of whom attend college part-time, did not equal males in enrollment until 1978 but outnumbered males (55% to 45%) by 1991; (c) minority enrollment increased from 20% in 1976 to 25% by 1991; and (d) part-time students, most of whom are members of one or more nontraditional groups, increased from 49% of the student population in 1970 to more than 65% of the population by 1992. The above patterns have remained the same through 1996, and it is likely that over 65% of the students enrolled in community colleges fall into at least one nontraditional student category (American Council on Education, 1998).

Another nontraditional student group that has been growing since 1970 is the group described in the community college literature as reverse transfer students. Kajstura and Keim (1992) operationally defined reverse transfers as "individuals who, prior to attending a two-year college, were last enrolled at a four-year institution" (p. 39). These researchers described reverse transfers further as belonging to one of two subgroups: "1) non-completers, who attended a four-year institution, but did not complete a degree before enrolling at a two-year college; and 2) graduates, who earned at least an undergraduate degree prior to enrolling at a two-year college" (Kajstura & Keim, 1992, p. 39).

Although the number of reverse transfers is not known with precision, previous research (Hogan, 1986; Mitchell & Grafton, 1985) indicates reverse transfers may comprise as much as 20% of community college enrollments. Even if only an average percentage from the literature (12%) is applied to the population of 5.2 million students enrolled in community colleges for credit (American Association of Community Colleges, 1997), the number of reverse transfers exceeds 600,000 students. Research about reverse transfers is needed because despite the emergence of a small body of reverse transfer literature, "reverse transfer students are a little-studied segment of the college student population [and] such students, who transfer from four-year colleges and universities to community colleges, represent a large uncharted population" (Swedler, 1983, p. 131).

Reverse transfer inquiry is warranted for three additional reasons. First, various studies suggest reverse transfer activity is increasing (Brimm & Achilles, 1976; Clark, 1960; Clark, 1982; Cohen, Palmer, & Zwemer, 1986). …

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Community College Reverse Transfer Students: A Field Survey of a Nontraditional Student Group
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