The increase in "swirling" students -- who attend more than one college before earning a degree -- is described and documented in the article excerpted below. Swirling is one of the reasons that the Commission of the Future of Higher Education and other policy-level groups and leaders are calling for a national "unit" database that is keyed to the student, rather than to the institution. Swirling is also a reason for the policy pressure to make credit transfer more transparent and generous.
College, My Way
Kate Zernike, New York Times, April 23, 2006
ERIN MADDEN laughs a little self-consciously referring to what she calls "my college tour." Not the kind that high school students take to look at potential campuses; hers started after she went to college and discovered she didn't like her choice. She transferred to another, and another, and another, and another, ultimately ending up with five colleges on her transcript when she graduated last year. It wasn't collegiate life as she once imagined it. But it wasn't so unconventional, either. These days, a majority of students take a similarly nomadic path to a degree; about 60 percent of students graduating from college attend more than one institution, a number that has risen steadily over at least the last two decades. In large part, those numbers reflect the growing population of nontraditional-age students, adults who go to college later in life and often start at a two-year institution. But even traditional students like Ms. Madden — those who head to a four-year college right out of high school — are approaching the experience in a nontraditional way. They transfer to get a more agreeable major or social life, or take classes at a college back home during the summer to get a leg up on the next year's credits. They take an online class, or earn credits during the year at a nearby community college where they find a required course cheaper, less demanding or at a more convenient hour. Or they do some of each. College officials call it swirling, mix and match, cut and paste, grab and go. Whatever the term of art, it makes sense for the so-called millennial generation, students famously lacking in brand loyalty, used to having things their way, and can-do about changing anything they don't like. As with other commodities, students are looking for that magic combination of quality, affordability and convenience. They shun CD's to create their own iPod playlists; is it any surprise they shape their own course catalogs? Read more ...