When it comes to transfer and mobility in higher education, the news is grim. Since the start of the pandemic, transfer enrollment dropped 16%, with upward transfer showing a steep decline in Spring 2021, dropping 11.6%. 

Many institutions rely on transfer students as a segment of their overall enrollment, especially when these students transfer vertically from a 2-year to a 4-year institution. For these institutions, sharp declines are worrying. 

But for other institutions, transfer raises different concerns. Nearly 40% of first-time students transfer institutions at some point in their higher education journey, which translates into lost revenue and lower persistence rates. 

Transferring from institution to institution is not an easy process, causing students to become frustrated by the complexity of it. And many times, transfer students lose credits, which translates into wasted time and money. In fact, a recent study that we conducted entitled Barriers to On-Time Completion reported that 33% of current students lost at least half of their credits when they transferred institutions. 

Losing credits during the transfer process is certainly frustrating for students and it impacts their ability to graduate on time. But our survey also revealed that course availability is a barrier students struggle to overcome as well. When students are waitlisted or are unable to enroll in the courses they need, they may feel like changing schools is the only way for them to stay on track.

Overcoming the Challenges With Course Availability

However, some students who struggle with course availability explore a different option, one where they take courses at other institutions to “fill the gap.” In the same study, 41% of current students reported that they took a class at another institution because it wasn’t available at their home institution, while 27% of recent graduates did the same. 

Unfortunately, students who take a course or two at another institution experience the same frustrations as transfer students. From not knowing which credits will—and will not—transfer, to frustrating and unclear processes, it’s clear that something needs to change. To address these challenges, and to provide an alternative to transferring schools, many institutions are exploring a model of course sharing called cross registration

Cross registration builds on existing transfer equivalencies and, using technology, provides an automated enrollment, registration, and tuition experience that can even make use of a student’s financial aid. And while cross registration may sound similar to traditional transfer, it’s different in three important ways.

3 Ways Cross Registration Differs From Traditional Transfer

1. Cross Registration Offers Students Alternative Ways to Stay on Track

Using cross registration, institutions offer their students ways to easily gain access to the courses they need without the hassle – and potential credit loss – associated with traditional transfer. Using cross registration, students benefit from knowing, before they spend time and money, that the courses they are taking will count towards their degree. 

Institutions benefit as well. Not only are home institutions helping their students stay on track. But they are doing so without the incremental costs associated with adding additional courses, sections, or faculty to their schedule. Teaching institutions benefit from the boost in enrollment, as well as the ability to fill empty seats in their classrooms.

2. Cross Registration Is Powered by Technology

At the core of the cross-registration process is technology, including an up-to-date transfer articulation database for students. This searchable database of transfer equivalencies provides students with the information they need in order to determine if—and how—a course they want to take at another institution transfers to their home institution.

Once they find a course and confirm that it will transfer, and importantly, count towards their degree, they can select the course and register for it immediately. They can even pay tuition and/or initiate the financial aid process through the cross-registration technology.

3. Cross Registration Reduces Manual Processes

The traditional transfer process can involve a lot of paper and online forms and is time consuming for both administrators and for students. With cross registration, that’s not the case. 

Course sharing platforms provide the ability for students to search for a course that fulfills their degree requirements in their institution’s course exchange. The results could show both courses offered at their home institution or courses offered at other institutions in the network. Once they find the course they need, they will immediately know if it will count towards their degree. If it does, they select it and register with one click. If it doesn’t, they keep searching until they find a course that fulfills their degree requirement. 

On the administrative side, course sharing platforms enable institutions to maintain a database of transfer articulations. Any time something changes relative to equivalency data, they can easily update the database and the changes are visible immediately to anyone who is searching. Administrators can also take advantage of workflows that expedite the process of course evaluation and articulation approval when new requests arise. 

As institutions continue to look for ways to tackle the challenges associated with traditional transfer, cross registration continues to be an innovative way to improve outcomes and boost student success.

About the Author


Quottly helps higher education systems, consortia, and institutions expand academic opportunity, create new pathways to completion, solve transfer challenges, and drive efficiency. Explore Quottly solutions…