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Student Mobility’s Causes and Consequences

Research report explores how to reduce negative effects


William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058,
Russell W. Rumberger, (805) 893-2250,

URL for this press release:


BOULDER, CO (June 1, 2015) – Student mobility is a widespread but often unnoticed problem facing U.S. education. The majority of students make at least one and sometimes multiple moves, unrelated to normal transitions between schools, over the course of their schooling, and this mobility can be harmful, according to a new policy brief published today by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

In Student Mobility: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions, Russell Rumberger, professor of education at the University of California Santa Barbara, describes the research in this area and explains that changing schools can negatively impact child and adolescent development by disrupting peer and teacher relationships and altering a student’s educational program.

Reasons for changing schools vary greatly, with moves resulting from events such as a family member changing jobs or residences, or even more disruptive events such as eviction or divorce. Schools can initiate the change as well, expelling a student or closing down entirely.

While moves are not always harmful, the overall body of research suggests that students suffer in terms of test scores and high school graduation and, to a lesser extent, student behavior. Multiple moves and those accompanied by family disruptions produce more severe consequences.

Due to the complexity of causes and consequences, policies that address the issue must be adaptable to a variety of circumstances. Professor Rumberger’s recommendations focus on reducing unnecessary mobility and on making the moving experience, when it does occur, as positive as possible. Harm can also be mitigated by developing open enrollment policies to retain local students who have moved.

If school closures are necessary, programs and supports should be available to the students. Parents should be given sufficient information with which to make informed decisions about school transfers. Transitions can also be eased with preparation on the part of the receiving school, along with funding allocated to improve new student integration. Mobility rates should be used as a measure of school effectiveness, ensuring that the original school is at least partially accountable for students who have transferred out.

The root causes of mobility must be addressed as well, Rumberger writes, including “policies to promote housing stability, such as affordable housing and fair housing laws, and policies to promote economic security in the form of better-paying and more secure jobs.”

Find Student Mobility: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions by Russell W. Rumberger on the web at:


The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.  For more information on NEPC, please visit

This policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (