Analysis: USHE students likely to transfer & change majors before graduation

The general perception of a traditional college career goes as follows: upon high school graduation, a student immediately enrolls the following year in a college or university, attends full-time, and soon thereafter graduates from the same college two to four years later.

A new analysis by the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education looks at how much USHE students change their major, transfer institutions and adjust their sights on the type of degree they are seeking (e.g. associate vs. bachelor’s). It analyzes the enrollment and completion patterns of student in relation to the amount of transfer among institutions, changes in majors, and changes in intended degree attainment. The analysis suggests the traditionally accepted route of a college student is actually the exception: only 1 in 5 USHE students enrolls and completes at the same institution, in the same major, and at the originally-intended award level. Students are more likely to change majors and transfer institutions.

USHE students are comparatively mobile with respect to both the institution they are attending (30% of students attend more than one USHE institution) and degree attainment (54% complete a degree other than what they indicated at the time of entry. While this movement between institutions and degree outcomes may prompt concerns, some of this “swirling” is by design. For example, the comparatively high level of student transfer between Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah is a positive and intentional outcome that is a cost-effective, flexible opportunity for students. This is due in part to the high level of system-based collaboration in general education and several specific areas of study.

Further, most students who completed a degree other than what was stated at entry actually complete higher awards; for example, certificate seekers completed associate degrees, and associate degree seekers completed bachelor’s degrees. Understanding the enrollment and degree completion patterns within USHE can aid in making the transfer pathways between institutions and degree programs more efficient, especially as institutions are now collaborating to ensure even greater stackability of college awards. Being able to adjust and facilitate the movement between institutions and degree programs could be essential factors that will lead to improved timely degree completions.


Access the full Issue Brief for further information.


Media Inquiries

Trisha Dugovic
Communications Director