Student Mobility

Post-secondary students occasionally switch institutions and when they do so, they frequently seek to transfer credits from the original institution to the subsequent one. This section examines the data available about the extent to which students move among institutions and also focuses on the subgroup that attempts to transfer course credits.

Tracking the flow of students among numerous post-secondary institutions – what BCCAT calls the “mobility” of students – is complicated. BCCAT has recently re-conceptualized its understanding of the post-secondary system in terms of multi-directional student mobility, rather than focusing on the subset of students who participate in uni-directional transfer to research universities.

The emerging findings call into question the assumption that all mobile students were transfer students who sought to complete a credential at their subsequent institution. Research is beginning to show that students move between institutional sectors for a range of good reasons, and that an effective transfer system allows students to extract the maximum benefit from the geographic and programmatic diversity of the province's post-secondary system in a manner that is flexible and efficient.

Year over Year: Original Perspective

Mobility of BC Transfer Students - Fall 2006 to Calendar Year 2007. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Summary, September 2008. Heslop, Joanne.

Focussing on about 23,000 students who had completed 24 credits in courses listed in the Transfer Guide with a GPA of at least 2.00, this study looked at where students were enrolled in the following calendar year.

The 2007 destinations of the 23,000 students “potentially interested in transfer” from Fall 2006

Earned a credential and were no longer enrolled


Stayed at their original institution


Transferred to a research intensive university


Transferred to another type of BC public post-secondary institution


Not enrolled anywhere in the BC public post-secondary system (both stop-outs and drop-outs in some unknown ratio)


More than two-thirds of the students who eventually transferred to a research university stayed at their original institution to acquire more than the minimum number of credits needed for transfer.

Year over Year: A Recent Perspective 

Movers and Transfers in the BC Public Post-Secondary System.  STP Research Results, February 2011. Heslop, Joanne.

This study analyzes all mobile students in contrast to earlier studies which focussed on students transferring to research universities. Close to 23,000 students changed institutions in 2008/09. The student mobility and transfer system in BC were found not as  unidirectional as policy makers had sometime envisaged it; rather, it was a multi-directional system.

These findings led BCCAT to re-conceptualize its original model, from the somewhat hierarchical notions of sending and receiving institutions to a web of student pathways among all types of institutions.

Mobility over Multiple Years

Tracking a Single Cohort

The Time It Takes: A Longitudinal Study of the 2003 Cohort of Students Eligible to Transfer to a BC Research Intensive University. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Results, June 2011. Lavin, Tracy. 

The study identified 23,500 “eligible to transfer" students in Fall 2003 who had 24 Transfer Guide credits with a GPA of at least 2.00 from institutions other than research universities. These students were followed until the 2009/10 academic year. The study found that  73% of these students had earned some sort of credential by 2009/10, and 46% of the credentials were bachelor’s degrees. In total, 25% obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher from research universities, and a further 18% from teaching intensive universities.

Following Their Footsteps: What Happens to Students who Move from Research Universities to Other BC Public Post-Secondary Institutions? BC Council on Admissions and Transfer: Research Results, August 2011. Heslop, Joanne. 

This study examined the year-over-year flow out of the research universities and into other BC public post-secondary institutions. In 2008/09, 6,100 students made such a switch of institutions. Two-thirds of these also switched programs and one quarter completed a credential at the research university before moving. Out of 20,400 newly admitted 2002/03 students at research universities, 7,600 (37%) moved to another type of post-secondary institution, although 2,700 eventually returned to their original research university by 2009/10. Two-thirds of the original 2003 entry cohort had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher by 2009/10.

Post-Secondary Student Mobility. STP Research Results, October 2012. Heslop, Joanne.

With a more comprehensive analysis across years and capturing all institutional switches within a year, the number of student pathways captured has more than doubled. As a result, the mobility rate has been adjusted upwards from 14% under the old model to 18% in the new model. Students who switch institutions typically move to an institution in a different sector. The number of students moving from teaching-intensive universities to research universities is declining as students increasingly remain at the teaching-intensive university to complete their degrees.

Composition of Student Body 2009-10




Teaching Universities

Research Universities

New students to BC post-secondary education





Continued in same institution from previous year





Stopped out and then continued at the same institution





Mobile students and other pathways










A Survey of Movers: Students who Move Between BC Public Post-Secondary Institutions. BC Council on Admissions and Transfer. January 2013. BC Stats.

In early 2012, the BC Council on Admissions and Transfer commissioned BC Stats to survey over 1,600 students who changed BC public post-secondary institutions between the 2010/11 academic year and fall 2011.  

For more information, please visit Survey of Movers.