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Faculty Relationships Result in Transfer Student Success

Chem professor: I registered a community college transfer student today who transferred in 70 credits, but must start in Gen Chem I, so it will take him four years to graduate. So frustrating and so common!

 

Math professor: I’ve had the same problem. Students transferring with more than 60 credits, but no Calc I, so it will take them at least three years to graduate.

 

Psych professor: We need to do something!

We did something. We applied for and were awarded an NSF S-STEM grant, Clear Path, (NSF DUE #1564634 & 213013) to support students transferring from community colleges to East Stroudsburg University (ESU) majoring in a STEM discipline.

Clear Path is a partnership among County College of Morris, ESU, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Luzerne County Community College, and Northampton Community College. All these community colleges offer an associate degree in each of the basic STEM disciplines.

Nearly 80% of community college students plan to transfer to a four-year institution to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only a third transfer within six years of community college entry (Valesco et al., 2024). After transferring, less than half earn a BS within six years of entering community college (Valesco et al., 2024). Barriers exist both to transferring and to completing the BS post-transfer. Common barriers include credit loss, lack of information/advising, and lack of social support services (Taylor & Jain, 2017; Sandrin et al., 2023). Seems like an opportunity for cross-institutional collaboration.

Although most science departments at ESU have articulation agreements with the local community colleges designed to allow students to transfer to ESU as juniors, these administrative agreements don’t reach all students planning to transfer. Too many students were falling through the cracks and not taking the needed courses. These issues are all too common (LaViolet & Wyner, n.d.). One of the objectives of Clear Path is to increase communication and curriculum coordination among ESU and area community colleges by:

  • ensuring that students enter ESU from community colleges with appropriate prerequisites;
  • creating, implementing and evaluating a cross-institutional communication plan;
  • identifying barriers to student preparation for the baccalaureate degree and proposing and implementing solutions.

An important part of the Clear Path program is that each community college designates a liaison, who is paid through the grant, to recruit and work with the scholars on their campuses. We’ve found that the most impactful and successful liaisons are faculty members, rather than administrators. Students can be accepted into the program at any point in their community college experience or as they transfer to ESU. The students are excited about the scholarship funds, as well as the academic support and cohort building activities Clear Path provides. What they don’t see is how wonderful and necessary the collaboration among the faculty has been for a successful program.

Initially, there was concern from some of the community colleges that ESU was going to try to poach their students, but as the PIs explained the program, including the requirement that scholars complete at least 45 credits before they could transfer to ESU, the mood warmed up. Over the years, the PIs have advised scholars to stay at the community college to be better prepared for junior level classes. A major message is that completing the relevant AS degree is the best preparation for the BS degree (Valesco et al., 2024). The level of trust among all parties has grown. These faculty-to-faculty connections have resulted in improved alignment of courses and programs. Our annual summer meetings provide opportunities for faculty and administrators from all campuses to celebrate successes and explore issues. Nearly every summer meeting has had deans and/or provosts in attendance, as well as science department chairs and faculty.

The examples of cooperation and connectivity between faculty at all institutions are many. For one, a community college partner wanted to add an associate degree in Biotechnology. Before the community college faculty developed the degree program, they consulted with ESU faculty about what courses would be most useful and to make sure that the courses would transfer seamlessly.

In another example, a scholar told her community college’s Clear Path liaison that she was interested in teaching high school math. ESU has a secondary education concentration for the math majors, but her community college does not. The Clear Path liaison contacted one of the ESU PIs and asked for advice on how to prepare the scholar to transfer. The PI recommended an introductory education class from the community college course catalog that would meet one of the ESU education requirements. The PI then got help from an ESU math education specialist and the ESU secondary education department chair to identify two more classes at the community college that would satisfy other ESU education requirements. Without that faculty-to-faculty connection, it’s likely that the student would have transferred to ESU with a strong math background, but no progress in the education side of her degree, delaying her graduation from ESU. The ESU PI made it clear to the liaison that any student interested in secondary education would benefit from taking those education courses. It has become routine for the faculty to discuss filling prerequisite gaps in a student schedule with classes either at ESU or at any of the community college partners. A true “our scholars” mentality and team atmosphere has evolved.

After years of working together, Clear Path is often invited to have a table at transfer events and to present at scholarship information sessions on the community college campuses. In addition to recruiting new scholars, ESU faculty get the opportunity to meet scholars who are already in the Clear Path program. Transfer students report that changing schools entails social risk and so is stressful (Sandrin et al., 2023). When the scholars transfer to ESU, these faculty are friendly faces on a campus full of strangers.

Clearly this type of collaboration requires faculty time and effort. The results have been well worth it. Between Fall 2017 and Fall 2020, only seven scholars who were supported at one of the partner community colleges decided not to transfer to ESU while 112 transferred to ESU (a 94% transfer rate). During focus group discussions, half of these students said they wouldn’t have transferred to ESU without the Clear Path program, and a quarter said they weren’t planning to pursue a BS degree before they learned about the Clear Path program.

Of the 116 scholars who matriculated to ESU during this period (including some who transferred from non-partner community colleges), 96 (82.76%) graduated with a BS degree in STEM. Those who graduated averaged 4.54 semesters at ESU with 59.4% graduating in four semesters or less and 79.2% graduating in five semesters or less. For comparison purposes, from 2004 – 2011, 51.98% of community college transfer students who transferred at least 57 credits to ESU earned a BS in any field in four semesters or less. Shortening the time to graduation means significantly less debt for already financially overburdened students. Finances are another well-known barrier to transfer student success (Sandrin et al, 2023; Taylor and Jain, 2017). Overall, the Clear Path scholars are more diverse than the typical ESU student with 32% underrepresented minorities (22% ESU), 56% Pell eligible (28% ESU), and 48% nontraditional (17% ESU).

My advice to you? Get off campus and interact with your counterparts at the local community colleges. Talk to them about how academic advising works on their campus and on your campus. Let them know what you expect students in your program to learn in the first two years. Ask them what they hear from their students about transferring to your institution. You, and your future students, will be glad you did.

 

References

LaViolet, T., & Wyner, J. (n.d.). Beyond articulation agreements: Five student-centered principles to improve transfer. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED610361.pdf

Sandrin, S., Nishimura, J., Sexton, M., Barbosa, S., Marshall, P., Chapman, A., McCarthy, N., & Tuohy, J. (2023). “I thought it was a little risky”: Transfer barriers for students with scholarship support. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/10668926.2023.2256249

Taylor, J. L., & Jain, D. (2017). The multiple dimensions of transfer: Examining the transfer function in American Higher Education. Community College Review, 45(4), 273–293. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091552117725177

Velasco, T., Fink, J., Bedoya-Guevara, M. Jenkins, D., & LaViolet T. (2024, February 7). Tracking transfer: Community college and four-year institutional effectiveness in broadening bachelor’s degree attainment. Community College Research Center. https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/publications/Tracking-Transfer-Community-College-and-Four-Year-Institutional-Effectiveness-in-Broadening-Bachelors-Degree-Attainment.html

Authors

Headshot of Olivia Carducci.

Olivia Carducci

Professor and Chair of Mathematics

East Stroudsburg University

Olivia Carducci, PhD is Professor and Department Chair of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University and proud NSF S-STEM PI. She enjoys helping students…

Editor

Headshot of Rachel Funk.

Rachel Funk

Research Scientist for the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Computer Education

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Dr. Rachel Funk (she/her) is a research scientist for the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Computer Education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In…

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