Report reveals that transferring may not save money after all

A new school year has arrived, and with it, a new stream of high school seniors you're helping to navigate the college-to-career path. For some, the decision to attend a 4-year university may be easy to make, while others may be considering an alternative route, such as a community college.

However, in a report released in December 2012, "A Brief Look at Transfer Students and Financial Aid," researchers found that bachelor's-degree-seeking students may not actually keep college costs down by starting at a community college. Instead, the report reveals that students who start at a two-year college and transfer and graduate from a four-year university borrow as often and as much as "native" students who begin at the university level.

For students who borrowed, the cumulative student loan debt of both transfer students and native students at public four-year universities was about $20,000. In the private four-year school sector, the cumulative loan amount borrowed by transfer students was approximately $27,000, compared to $25,000 for native students.

"Many students have traditionally been guided to follow the transfer route, with the assumption it will help them save on certain college costs," explained Carla Fletcher, TG senior research analyst and the report's author. "Unfortunately, we found this to be untrue, and in fact, the transfer route may end up creating significant barriers for some students."

Key findings in the report also include:

  • Financial aid awarded by institutions was higher for native students compared to their transfer peers at four-year public and private universities
  • Native students of all races and ethnicities received more in grant aid than their transfer peers during their senior year
  • Hispanic transfer students borrowed a median of $2,400 more than Hispanic native students, the largest difference of any race or ethnicity

As you begin to guide your students through the college process, here are some important tips you can give them as they make their decisions. Recommend students always take a full course load since the sooner they meet their degree or certification requirement, the less they may borrow. Show them free scholarship search databases, such as the one at Finally, you can show them how their choices of major and career might ultimately affect their future earnings by using Major Choices, an online calculator that allows students to estimate potential median debt-to-income ratios for certain majors at many public college and proprietary institutions within Texas.