A Closer Look at Reverse Transfer and International Students

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Nine percent of all international students in the US, or 95,000, were enrolled at community colleges in 2015-16, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors report.

National data on the proportion of international students that start at community colleges upon initial entry to the US, versus those who start at a four-year college and then transfer to a community college, is currently unavailable. However, it’s clear from preliminary research that similar to domestic transfer students, international students reverse transfer from four-year colleges to community colleges, concurrently enroll in both, and swirl back and forth between the two.

Based on interviews with eight admissions advisors and 18 international students, as well as an online survey sent to international students at a large Midwestern university, researchers Linda Serra Hagedorn, Shaohua Pei, and Lu Yan identified seven basic scenarios encountered by international students who initially enrolled in a four-year university and subsequently reverse transferred to a community college  along their path to a degree.

Those scenarios, outlined by the researchers in 2016, include:

  • As a rescue for low grades and the threat of academic dismissal
  • To take a specific “bad” course
  • To take a course that has an English public speaking requirement
  • To take online courses (especially over the summer) to save time and money
  • For the purpose of acceleration to degree completion
  • For assistance with the English language
  • Financial savings.

“Most international students do not understand the mission of community colleges when they first come to the USA since there are typically no parallels in their home countries,” the researchers noted. “But through word of mouth and by recommendations of their advisors, some students will find these institutions to seek assistance, save face, and find a welcome rescue.”

Hagedorn and colleagues are currently expanding upon this research. For more information about international transfer students, check out the summer issue of The Journal of College Admission coming soon.

Heather Durosko is NACAC’s Assistant Director of Strategic Initiatives for educational content and policy. She can be reached at hdurosko@nacacnet.org.

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