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College Transfer Rates Skyrocket

According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Education, as many as 60 percent of American college students attend more than one school before they graduate with a Bachelor's degree. The college transfer rate has been rising steadily for the last two decades, but in recent years, admissions officers have seen an explosion in transfer applications - and they say the reasons are clear.

Miranda Spradlin is a second-year student at New York University, where she is studying communications and public relations. She grew up in California, but says she decided to go to school in New York, because she wanted something different. After just two months here, though, she started to feel that the move may have been a mistake.

"I just wasn't happy with NYU," Spradlin says as she sits in a coffee shop after a morning of classes. "Despite the fact that they don't have a campus, they said 'we make up for it; we're still a community; you see students all the time.' And I really didn't get that. I'd go out on the weekends, and I'd be with 30-year-old men at the bars that knew college girls were going to be there and stuff, and it just wasn't very appealing."

She stuck it out for the year, but when she found she still was not happy at the start of her second year at NYU, Miranda Spradlin decided to transfer. She has applied to three schools in the state of California's university system. "They're much more social schools, much more community-oriented," she says. "I like the idea of having Greek Life (i.e. fraternities and sororities) - not necessarily to be in a sorority, but just because it kind of brings the students together. I like the idea of having sports teams, because it does the same thing. And they're closer to home."

Homesickness and a general dissatisfaction with their social lives are two big reasons college students transfer -- but they are not the only reasons. Many switch schools because they can no longer afford to stay where they are. And according to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly two-thirds of college students who transfer these days say they are doing it because they want a more prestigious degree, or because they want an educational program that is not offered at the school they first entered.

That is the case with Nicholas Sharac, who is finishing his first year at Fordham University. The school has a tightly-defined core curriculum that requires students to take a number of Humanities courses. But Sharac says he has decided he wants to concentrate on the sciences.

"In the beginning, when I first came to college, I was happy with the core (curriculum), because it enabled me to not have to pick a path, as far as education goes," he says. "But now that I want to get into biology and more into science courses, I don't really feel the need to learn about theology, or spend time on courses that don't really have to do with what I want to do."

Sharac says he is not surprised to learn so many college students choose to transfer. He says when you are in high school, you do not always know what you like, or what you are good at - and sometimes you are forced to make a decision about college before you really understand who you are.

"You can't really know how you're going to be doing or what you're going to be thinking in college, when you're in high school," Sharac says. "So the way high school is set up now, you can't really make a great decision as far as college goes. In my case, high school didn't really motivate me to pick any direction at all. So that's kind of why I couldn't pick a direction in high school."

Indeed, that may be why some students start out at a two-year community college, where they get an Associate's degree, and then transfer to a four-year institution, to get their Bachelor's.

But teenaged aimlessness is not a new thing - and by itself, it cannot explain the explosive increase in college transfer rates. Lehigh University, for example, has seen the number of transfer applications increase by 30 percent in the last three years, according to Eric Kaplan, Director of Admissions at Lehigh.

Kaplan says the transfer rate may be up because colleges are doing a much better job of marketing themselves - and recent changes in technology have helped them do that. "There are lots of resources that are devoted to marketing," he says, "Either through institutional print pieces or through websites - which is a great example of something that in the mid 1990s students didn't have access to, that now are one of the key sources of information for high school students."

But something else may also be at work. The average cost of tuition and housing at a private university in the United States has gone up 40% in the last five years. At NYU - where Miranda Spradlin goes to school - it costs more than $43,000 a year to get a Bachelor's degree.

"My parents are paying for college," she says with conviction, "And I think it's unfair to them for me to be somewhere that I don't want to be, and they're spending all this money - you know, that's just dumb."

In this sense, a college education may have become just another commodity for America's consumer-savvy young adults - who are not willing to pay good money for a jacket… a pair of shoes… or an education that does not suit them.