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This Just Published: Transfer programs and practices

by Brett Ranon Nachman | Nov 8, 2017

This Just Published logo, 480 pixelsBrett Ranon Nachman is a ​doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a ​project assistant for WISCAPE. His research primarily focuses on the experiences and depictions of college students on the autism spectrum, as well as STEM community college students’ experiences and transfer pathways.

Welcome back to “This Just Published.” This time around, we highlight three journal articles, published over the past year, that encompass transitions from ​two-year to four-year institutions.

DeWine P. R., Ludvik, M. B., Tucker, M., Mulholland, S., & Bracken, W. (2017) Exploring a successful community college student transition to a research-university environment. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 41(12), 809-822, doi: 10.1080/10668926.2016.1232669


View the journal article

The transitory stage from community college student to university student signifies a period of new discoveries and acclimation. What should model examples of support look like, though? Paul DeWine, Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Mark Tucker, Shaila Mulholland, and Wendy Bracken, scholars at San Diego State University and National University, conducted a case study of traditionally-aged community college transfer students at a high research activity university. Their findings, published in Community College Journal of Research and Practice, reinforce the necessity of addressing how four-year institutions can best support a largely varied set of transfer students.

The authors elected to conduct a case study at a research institution relatively distinctive for two primary reasons: its student population consisted of 44​ percent Asian students, and its 2010 cohort of transfer students similarly included Asian students as the most prominent group represented (36 percent). Through interviewing 20 individuals who embodied a variety of disciplines and units on campus, complemented by engaging in document analysis, the researchers captured much breadth in campus experiences and useful content. Worth noting is that the researchers interviewed an even split of university staff who work with transfer students, and also transfer students with three to four quarters behind them at this new institution. Collectively, the researchers wanted to discover the mechanisms that worked to offer incoming transfer students’ a fruitful first year at this new institution, as well as identify areas of future improvement.

Six main themes -– academic support, social support, faculty, orientation, pre-enrollment programs, and university communication –- emerged from the data as having some impact on community college transfer students. Each is detailed in great depth, and the authors elicit some telling points. For instance, the four-year institutional advisors often encouraged these new transfer students to take greater ownership of their coursework and professional goals, yet there was often disconnect between the type of support that students requested and what advisors envisioned. This appears to be an opportunity for advisors and students to reconcile through both being explicit with their objectives from one another. The institution must also place more attention to connecting all prospective and incoming transfer students to the primary transfer-student website.

Reviewing the efficacy of community college advising services is viewed as one fruitful next step. I would add that more intentional communication among advisors at both community colleges and four-year institutions, so as to determine deficiencies in information they communicate to students, and how they can work more in tandem to provide clear expectations, is a must. Such discussions are also vital among administrators, in order to establish clear and seamless articulation agreements. Though this study demonstrated an example of a highly effective one, others are often lacking. This remains a major recommendation, as lacking knowledge on what courses transfer can hamper students’ harmonious transitions. Similarly, finding out too late that certain courses taken at the community college will not count toward their four-year degree can also be detrimental.

The researchers recommend studies involve interviews with faculty about their transfer students to elicit compelling context. Thus, conversations with faculty about programming they have participated in that address transfer students’ needs might reveal much more global deficiencies at the institutional level in properly training them. Accordingly, one major recommendation I would offer is that universities adopt a standard, yet brief workshop, which faculty must attend on a yearly basis, that features a panel of transfer students about their experiences, as well as advice from institutional units that directly service this population. While some faculty might resist attending yet another workshop, especially if it lacks novelty and substance, more greatly incorporating transfer students’ voices might prove powerful in providing faculty with ideas on how to adapt their pedagogical practices to meet their needs.

Finally, community colleges must determine how to build rigor for prospective transfer students aiming to transfer to high research institutions, yet still meet the needs of students who take remedial courses. While community colleges serve a vast spectrum of students, perhaps more can consider offering periodic seminars on how prospective transfer students can prepare for the workload at four-year institutions, complete with four-year faculty guest lecturers to address it firsthand. Perhaps community college honors classes, or other courses with more laborious workloads, can also aim to incrementally increase the intensity and depth of content. These procedures may provide both awareness and engagement related to what rigor resembles at high research four-year institutions. Other scholars can indeed use this piece as a foundation for conducting case studies of community college transfer students at four-year universities with different student populations, transfer initiatives, and institutional priorities. 

Fink, J., & Jenkins, D. (2017). Takes two to tango: Essential practices of highly effective transfer partnerships. ​Community College Review, 45(4), 294-310.

View the journal article

Connections forged between ​two-year and four-year institutions may enable smoother trajectories for transfer students. John Fink and Davis Jenkins of Columbia University’s Teachers College sought to determine some of the best partnerships in their study, published by Community College Review. Through conducting several hundred, in-depth  interviews with a variety of primary stakeholders, they pinpointed positive practices that marked many of them and may compel other institutions to adopt similar measures.

The authors note the paucity of studies on transfer student outcomes, complemented by only a few notable pieces on partnerships, thus immediately showing how their study adds to the literature. Although best practices-based reports have emerged over the past few years, Fink and Jenkins that, until now, studies have not enlisted institutions based on demonstrating evidence of relative effectiveness.

Fink and Jenkins pulled data from the National Student Clearinghouse, involving 1.2 million, first-time community college students from Fall 2007 and tracking them through Fall 2014. Several steps encompassed selection of institutions. First, they identified community colleges with a positive residual for bachelor’s completion rates, in that they performed higher than expected. 143 emerged. Next, they identified ​four-year partners that attained a high population of community college transfer students from these institutions, and conducted similar procedures as in the first step to target institutions with the highest dyad residual values. The authors and colleagues screened college leaders at 24 institutions, narrowing it down to 14 community colleges and four-year institutions across six states: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Washington. The team conducted interviews with administrators, faculty members, transfer students and student services staff members, specifically interested in five main areas: “(a) institutional commitment and strategy; (b) data and information sharing; (c) programmatic collaboration; (d) curricular alignment; and (e) recruitment, advising, and student support” (p. 300).

They uncovered several essential transfer practices that other institutions might similarly embrace. For one, institutional missions often emphasized a commitment to transfer. Presidents prioritized and promoted such objectives, and intentionally gathered data –- disaggregated by various student and institutional characteristics, importantly –- on transfer students, thus helping them understand who they were, and were not, serving. Establishing efforts on partners’ campuses and placing resources into enhancing transfer student outcomes also served as key characteristics. Second, partners often worked in tandem to make it clear on how students could gain credit and navigate transfer into specific majors. This also extended to faculty members, who ensured community college students felt readily equipped to approach tougher courses; accordingly, this point directly connects back to the DeWine et al. (2017) piece that emphasized the need for increasing rigor. Furthermore, institutions regularly updated and improved program maps, keeping students abreast of changes to their pathways.

Finally, customized and deliberate transfer student advising practices exemplified some of their practices. Helping community college students identify fields of interest immediately and consistently monitoring their trajectories enabled advisors to prepare students on the front end. Further down the line, four-year institutional advisors also exhibited dedication toward this particular student population and implemented measures, such as Colorado State University enlisting transfer students to facilitate orientations, which make them feel valued.

The intentionality and intensity to which the authors gathered data and unearthed valuable findings have major practical and policy-based implications. Clearly, both community colleges and ​four-year universities can take simple steps toward enhancing transfer partnerships, from improving the quality of advising training for helping transfer students, to hiring administrators who view and demonstrate evidence that transfer students are important. Four-year universities’ outreach offices would be wise to set up dialogues with their current transfer students, who filtered in from local community colleges, and find out from them the biggest struggles of adjusting to university life. These dialogues could inspire reformations in programming to better accommodate transfer students’ experiences.

Jain, D., Lucero, I., Bernal, S., Herrera, A., & Solorzano, D. (2017). Developing transfer pride: An exploration of critical race pedagogy and the Summer Transfer Enrichment Program. 
Community College Review45(3), 171-189.

View the journal article


What measures can institutions take to demonstrate a transfer receptive culture, and thus promote higher transfer rates and persistence among student populations who may traditionally have more struggles in this domain? At the center of a study published by Community College Review, Dimpal Jain of California State University-Northridge, as well as UCLA co-authors Iris Lucero, Santiago Bernal, Alfred Herrera, and Daniel Solorzano, explore the role of a transfer program aimed at orienting students at their new institution. What they discover is that offering programming is only one component, and that cultivating a sense of community among new transfer students remains pivotal.

Recognizing the deficit of literature that addresses summer bridge programming aimed toward transfer students, the authors demonstrate the opportunities with conducting such research. Similarly, they find value in identifying the nature of curriculum and pedagogy, which informed adopting a conceptual framework featuring critical race pedagogy at the center of it. Hence, they selected a program at a public research-intensive university in California with a high population of students of color that prioritizes collaborations with local community college districts. The program, possessing the Summer Transfer Enrichment Program (STEP) pseudonym, allows participants to select a six-week summer course and have the fees completely covered, in addition to attend workshops and speakers on topics that may facilitate their transitions. Significantly, these touch on not only navigating financial aid, but also topics like mental wellness and a university tour specifically targeted for students of color that addressed issues from a racialized perspective.

The authors gathered data via surveys and focus groups; most participants identified as Latinx. Three important themes came out of the focus groups. First, many students found STEP course curriculum and workshops, which addressed social and identity-based issues, to be very useful toward both self-development and also transfer confidence. One student even changed her major based on exposure to content from the course. Having the agency to explore topics during final course papers was helpful in raising critical questions and also learning more about their own backgrounds. Second, STEP allowed for students to engage in thoughtful inquiry around race and racism. These students, in addition to contending with traditional transfer shock, experienced a layered racial component, too. Since some students entered majors that had less diversity than the larger university racial composition, participants experienced feelings of assimilation. Third, developing transfer pride differed among students, because some felt concern over being stigmatized by others if they disclosed their transfer student status. One participant, for instance, said she gathered transfer pride through seeing similarities between transfer identity and other forms of identity. 

Many recommendations for policy and practice emerge from this study. As STEP was indeed effective in facilitating much engagement and enhanced empowerment among these students who felt valued by the institution recognizing their many identities, some of them overlapping, other institutions can follow suit and model STEP’s design to function within their own institutions. The authors, while acknowledging that STEP programs may not work everywhere, noted that validating these transfer students’ experiences, employing critical mentoring practices, and enlisting students to participate on panels are all important and reasonable measures. These are neither laborious nor costly options that give voice to the role of transfer students, especially those with other identities that may be marginalized.

Additionally, the specialized workshops piece is particularly outstanding, for they address acute gaps within many institutions. Institutional leaders who unite the services that different units on campus provide, including mental health and financial aid, demonstrate that they see these as a priority as complementary elements of students’ academic experiences. I would further emphasize that enlisting speakers who share common identities with these prospective students, in terms of transfer trajectories, race, and geographic status, is similarly critical, for this can help build solidarity and comfort.

The authors offer a few ideas for future research, such as interviewing faculty and staff, and comparing different campuses programs. On top of those, I would offer a few. Scholars may also look at four-year graduation rates among transfer students who partake in transfer student bridge programming. Though we live in a society where outputs are among the simplest and most commonly emphasized points to illustrate regarding the success of a program, we might find this data to be enlightening, and reaffirm the importance of such programming. Even more, more deeply examining how transfer students found friends or community among fellow program participants could unmask the social lives of these individuals and add weight to how vital this component plays into students’ experience and persistence post-transfer. Through and through, Jain, Lucero, Bernal, Herrera, and Solorzano contribute to the literature by accenting how material within one summer transfer program may shape students’ sense of self, identify and transfer pride.


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