Contributed by: Gabe LaHue
In keeping with our theme of “Equitable Access to Education: Supporting Students from Diverse Backgrounds”, this week we chose to focus on transfer students, and students that transferred from community colleges in particular. UC Davis admitted 39,306 students in 2016, of which 9,587 were transfer students from California community colleges1. Transfer students from California community colleges therefore represented 92.8 percent of all transfer students and 24.4 percent of all new students. Given this sizeable presence (and the importance of teaching to benefit all types of students), it is essential that we understand the unique challenges that transfer students face and the strengths that set them apart.
In our discussion, we first focused on brainstorming why students might choose to attend community college in the first place. Our list included financial reasons, staying close to family, uncertainty about their career path, improving academic performance, the flexibility of class times (especially for students with careers), and the flexibility of enrollment. We also came up with some potential strengths of transfer students (previous college experience, greater time for maturation, a possibly greater sense of purpose and personal responsibility, and coursework at an institution that focuses on teaching) and some potential challenges (more working hours, a lack of familiarity with the campus and community, less support for academically-challenged students than they might be used to, credit-transfer problems, etc.).
After our initial brainstorms focusing on who transfer students are, we shifted to looking at how we can best serve transfer students by analyzing two research articles about community college transfer student persistence and degree attainment at 4-year institutions2,3. Although the studies differed in their rigor and some notable results (like the importance of gender, ethnicity, working hours, and participation in social clubs), there were several factors found to be important in both studies. The socioeconomic status of the students, their parents’ highest degree level, and the student’s degree goal were all deemed to be important. One of the studies found that whether a student’s high school curriculum was vocational or academic in nature affected degree attainment. The other study found that interaction with academic advisors was an important positive factor. Interestingly (and in line with current thinking at universities), remediation in math was found to be negatively correlated with persistence or degree attainment. At the end of the day, many of these factors are beyond our control as teaching assistants or instructors. However, I was struck by the importance of high ambition (as evidenced by the degree goal and to a lesser degree by the negative correlation with remediation). In addition to sound teaching techniques that benefit all students, we can encourage our students to set ambitious goals and help connect students to resources and organizations around the campus.
1. Easley, J.A., 2016. “UC Davis admits more than 39,300.” UC Davis. Internet Resource. Available from: https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/uc-davis-offers-admission-more-39300/
2. Wang, X. 2009. Baccalaureate attainment and college persistence of community college transfer students at four-year institutions. Research in Higher Education. 50:570-588.
3. Lee, H., and Schneider, T. 2016. Does post-transfer involvement matter for persistence of community college transfer students? Community College Journal of Research and Practice. DOI: 10.1080/10668926.2016.1251351