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Student Mobility Raises Significant Institutional Questions

The recent report on Student Mobility by the National Student Clearing House® Research Center™ will no doubt spur a great deal of discussion with regards to education policy and how and whether to hold higher education institutions accountable for student success. Persistence and graduation are key measures of student success. Given that approximately one-third of students transfer institutions at least once within 5 years of starting suggests that measuring persistence and graduation is problematical at the institutional level.

In fact, the report has already generated some initial comments. Matthew C. Keegan writes in SAYCAMPUSLIFE that “The information in the report is likely to be dissected by higher education providers, enabling stakeholders to shape policy”. Mitch Smith at Inside Higher Ed quotes Janet Marling, executive director of the University of North Texas’s National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students stating that

It used to be just an institutional issue. Now it’s an educational issue with folks moving between institutions.

I will leave policy and measurement discussions to others for the moment but the degree of student mobility should cause institutions to closely examine:

  • how, when and what support services should be available for students;
  • how classes are offered, when and using what delivery model;
  • how to understand and manage student expectations;
  • how to effectively allocate resources;  and
  • how to build, manage and maintain relationships with other institutions.

The finding that one-third of students transfer within 5 years of starting suggests that students will attend the institution that best meets their needs at any given point in time. The institutions that are flexible and responsive to students’ changing needs will be in the best position to deliver the most valuable educational experience.

To be flexible and responsive an institution needs a student mobility strategy backed by good analytics. Institutions generally have rudimentary knowledge of transfer students at any given point in time, but institutions today need to collect information that allow them to examine trends related to student mobility. Institutions need to understand how student mobility affects the institution (e.g., retention). Institutions need to examine whether the institutional mission is in alignment with the reality of student mobility. Institutions need to understand if and how student mobility affects the overall educational experience of the student at the institution.

What is necessary is for each institution to have a clear understanding of student mobility for their institution, why it occurs, whether its occurrence should be considered a negative, neutral, or positive outcome, and how the institution should allocate its resources appropriately.

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