Is Transfer Credit a Strategy for Success or a Prescription for Failure?


Identifying the factors contributing to successful completion of an engineering degree at a predominately white, research institution by under-represented and under-served minority students is one goal of the {name deleted for anonymity}. Additionally, we seek to differentiate the strategies and obstacles affecting the success of students from various ethnicities and backgrounds. To this end, non-majority undergraduate engineering students were interviewed using a protocol inspired by Gandara (1995), Seymour and Hewitt (1997), and Margolis & Fisher (2002). Our quasi-longitudinal research design invited students to share their lived experiences as minority students in undergraduate engineering programs at this institution. Invitations to participate were extended to students in their sophomore, junior, or senior years and were repeated annually until graduation. Overall, 165 African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, and Native American students participated in 234 interviews. These students represent ten of the eleven undergraduate degree programs available in the college at the beginning of the project.

Among the complex web of factors emerging from our data analysis, the broad extent and varying impact of course work completed outside this, the receiving, university is notable.

Research questions to be addressed in this paper include:

  • What are the motivations for taking classes outside of the research institution?
  • What are the future consequences of taking fundamental STM courses (mathematics, physics, chemistry, or programming) at a community college or non-research institution?
  • What are the differences in impact and effect based on whether the credit was earned pre-enrollment at the receiving institution or after a failed attempt in a class at the receiving institution?
  • What are the impacts of outside coursework on involvement with and integration into the receiving university?
    How are these motivations and effects differentiated for students from diverse backgrounds?

Depending on circumstances, this course taking pattern seems to be both a strategy for success and a prescription for failure. We will link academic transcript data and qualitative data from the students’ interviews to illuminate and differentiate these circumstances.

References cited in abstract

Gandara, P. (1995). Over the Ivy Walls: The Educational Mobility of Low-Income Chicanos. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Margolis, J., & Fisher, A. (2002). Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. M. (1997). Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences. Oxford: Westview Press.

Available from: ASEE Archive

Walden, S. E. and C. E. Foor (2008). Is Transfer Credit a Strategy for Success or a Prescription for Failure? Proceedings of 2008 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition, Pittsburgh, PA.

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