Transfer Credit as a Success Strategy

Summary from the Grant Proposal

The goal of our STEP Type 2 award Portraying Success Among URM Engineering Majors (DUE-0431642) is to differentiate the strategies and obstacles affecting the success of students from various ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds at a predominately white research institution. Our original research questions addressed:

  1. What systemic factors contribute to the success of URM students in engineering at large, predominantly white universities?
  2. What systemic factors contribute to differential success between URM populations?

We addressed these questions using qualitative methodology of semi-structured interviews. Student interviews provided the primary source of data used in our analysis. Student academic transcripts provided a secondary source of data. One pattern that emerged during analysis was the presence of transfer credit on many of these student’s academic transcripts. While certain questions in our original protocol led to some discussion of transfer credit, we did not ask specific questions targeting student motivations for attending other institutions, student experiences at other institutions, experiences as transfer students at the receiving institution, nor how these experiences affected their success at the receiving institution.

Our preliminary data suggest that a large percentage of URM students rely on several different types of transfer hours, primarily, though not exclusively, from community colleges, to fulfill degree requirements. We will focus on two types of transfer activities: transitional hours taken post high school but prior to enrolling in the receiving institution, and transfer hours taken concurrently while enrolled at the receiving institution. Data suggest that student populations have different patterns of use with regard to transfer hours. For instance, the African American students do not use transitional hours at the same rate as students from the other racial/ethnic groups. For those African American students who do have transitional credit, the number of hours taken is substantially lower than that by students from other groups. However, when looking at concurrent enrollment, many more African American students have this type of credit and typically have more hours of concurrent credit than the comparative populations.

Intellectual Merit: We recognize that a substantial body of literature documents community college attendance and transfer rates. That research is based primarily on institutional records and only occasionally captures student experiences. Much of STEM-specific research in this area consists of programs and their evaluations. This proposal supplement will implement interview protocols designed to more clearly illuminate how students use transfer pathways to successfully complete engineering baccalaureate degrees. Through the use of these protocols focused on the motivations of students who took courses at other institutions, we seek to identify the political, economic, social and cultural forces which informed those behaviors. Our protocols also query the students’ perceptions of the outcomes of these course-taking behaviors. Our research methodology penetrates more deeply than the easily quantifiable measures to capture the differential experiences of diverse students. Unlike descriptive and predictive models, we will apply theoretical contexts and frameworks that ground analyses and produce explanatory models, such as a course-based model for concurrent enrollment behavior.

Broader Impacts: Our preliminary analysis roughly groups students into Survivalists and Strategists. By developing an understanding of the influencing forces and the resultant uses and outcomes of enrollment at a community college, we can direct students toward being Strategists for completing an engineering bachelor’s degree. With our course-based model for concurrent transfer enrollment, four-year institutions can evaluate curricular requirements and efficacy. Listening to the students’ experiences, senior institutions will gain a better understanding of the difficulties faced by both transitional and concurrent-enrolling students and can better implement support strategies to facilitate their transition and integration.

As the proportion of enrollees with either transitional or concurrent community college credit is increasing, it is critical that the four-year institutions are aware of this changing demographic to keep pace with the emerging challenges of the 21st century.