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The integration of community college transfer students at a four-year college

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Title:
The integration of community college transfer students at a four-year college
Creator:
Toland, Vaughn Nicholas
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English
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v, 38 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Subjects / Keywords:
Transfer students -- United States ( lcsh )
Community college students -- United States ( lcsh )
Community college students ( fast )
Transfer students ( fast )
United States ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 35-38).
General Note:
Department of Sociology
Statement of Responsibility:
by Vaughn Nicholas Toland.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
123007295 ( OCLC )
ocn123007295
Classification:
LD1193.L66 2006m T64 ( lcc )

Full Text
THE INTEGRATION OF COMMUNITY COLLEGE TRANSFER STUDENTS
AT A FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE
by
Vaughn Nicholas Toland
B.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1996
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts in Sociology
2006


This thesis for the Master of Arts
Degree by
Vaughn Nicholas Toland
has been approved
by
Andrea Haar
Erin Amundson
U/3 /C6
Date


Toland, Vaughn Nicholas (M.A., Sociology)
The Integration of Community College Transfer Students at a Four-Year
College
Thesis directed by Professor Candan Duran-Aydintug
ABSTRACT
Community colleges and their students have become more prominent in the
US higher education system in recent years. However, after an exhaustive
review of the literature, I discovered very little existed that examined the
integration issues faced by these students after transferring to a four-year
college. A good portion of the existing literature focuses on transfer shock,
or the drop in GPA many students experience after transferring to the four-
year college. The transfer shock literature only tells a portion of the story
though. In addition, much of the literature focuses on freshman integration
issues, apparently disregarding the large number of students who transfer to
other colleges/universities each year. As a result, this research study was
conducted to find out more about the factors that affect the integration of,
specifically, community college transfer students at a large, urban four-year
college. Three focus groups were conducted to gain insight into transfer
student experiences and to determine what factors influence their integration
at the college. The information and experiences they shared led to the
development of the following main themes: negotiation, connecting, and
student initiative. In addition, the students in the study offered advice on what
services could be provided to better integrate them into the college.
This abstract accurately reflects the content of the candidates thesis,
recommend its publication.
Signed
Candan Durah-Aydifltug


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my significant other Melissa Byrd, who, through her
dedication to learning, inspired and motivated me to return to school to finish
my Masters degree. She also provided me with unfaltering support while I
was completing my thesis.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I would like to thank my advisor, Candan Duran-Aydintug, for her contribution
to and support of my research. Without her guidance and insight, I doubt I
would have completed this thesis. I would also like to thank all of the
members of my committee for their valuable contributions to this project. And
lastly, I would like to thank Judi Diaz-Bonacquisti for her support and
encouragement of my research.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION.........................................1
Purpose of Study and Research Question............1
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE.............................2
Community Colleges and Their Students.............2
Negative Effects of Community College Attendance..4
Transfer Shock....................................6
Social Integration and Adjustment.................9
3. METHODOLOGY.........................................14
Research Question................................14
Participants and Site for the Study..............14
Data Collection..................................17
Focus Groups...............................17
Procedures.......................................17
Pilot Study................................17
Main Study.................................18
Limitations......................................18
IV


4. ANALYSIS OF THE DATA............................20
Negotiating...................................20
Connecting....................................23
Recommendations to Improve Services...........27
Recommendations for Future Research...........30
Conclusion....................................30
APPENDIX
A. FOCUS GROUP INTERVIEW GUIDE.....................32
B. RECRUITMENT EMAIL...............................33
C. INFORMED CONSENT FORM...........................34
REFERENCES................................................35
v


CHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION
Purpose of Study and Research Question
Community college transfer students have become a major part of the
higher education system in the US. In fact, according to the National Center
for Educational Statistics (NCES) approximately one-third of all college
students from 1995-96 to 2000-01 transferred to another college or university
during their post-secondary career (Jacobs, 2001). However, very little
research has been conducted on these students. The purpose of this study
was to investigate the experiences of community college transfer students,
specifically focusing on the factors that affect their integration at the four-year
college. More specifically, the questions guiding this study are the following:
. What factors make community college transfer students feel the most
connected and integrated into the college?
. In what ways can the four-year college help community college transfer
students feel more connected and integrated into the college?
The results of the study will provide insight into transfer student experiences
as well as inform the programs and services we provide to these students,
helping them feel more connected to the college and thus more likely to
persist.
1


CHAPTER TWO
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Community Colleges and Their Students
The prominence of community colleges in the United States has grown
considerably in recent years. Based on the findings of Rhine, Milligan, and
Nelson (2000), community colleges in the US are attracting and enrolling the
vast majority of first-year higher education students. In fact, community
colleges In the U.S. enroll approximately 10 million students each year and 46
percent of all students 1995-96 began at a two-year institution (Laanan,
2001). The primary focus of community colleges has shifted recently as well.
For instance, according to Piland (1995) and Borglum and Kubala (2002),
structural changes in the economy and societal pressures have reduced the
importance of vocational education and placed student transfer as the primary
mission of community colleges (Piland, 1995; Borglum and Kubala, 2000).
This is evident by the findings of a recent study by the National Center for
Educational Statistics (NCES) that approximately one-third of all college
students from 1995-96 to 2000-01 had transferred at some point during their
college career (Jacobs, 2004). Based on these data, it is apparent that the
community colleges and their students are vital cogs in the higher education
system of this country.
2


Now that I have established the importance of community colleges in
the US higher education system, it is essential to understand the
characteristics of the students who attend these institutions. According to
Flaga (2002), the student population at community colleges is extremely
diverse in terms of ethnicity, age, socio-economic background, family and
work responsibilities, and goals. In fact, Eggleston and Laanan (2001), claim
that racial and ethnic minorities comprise roughly 48 percent of the
community college population. The diversity of the community college is
evident by the fact that the typical transfer student is twenty-six years old,
female and works part-time (Fredrickson, 1998, as cited in Jacobs, 2004).
Miville and Sedlacek (1995) echo this finding by reporting that transfer
students tend to be of a more nontraditional college age, to have children, to
work full- or part-time, and to receive less financial assistance once enrolled
in an institution. Davies and Casey (1999) also found that the majority of
transfer students have more than one student identity, since they also work,
raise families, take care of parents and have other responsibilities outside the
campus. Therefore, any study of community college transfer students must
be aware of and sensitive to this diversity in order to fully understand their
unique perspectives and experiences.
3


Negative Effects of Community College Attendance
In order to gain insight into the community college transfer student,
numerous studies have examined the effects of attending a community
college on student persistence and degree attainment at the four-year
institution. More specifically, are there certain aspects of the community
college that impact the success of their students at four-year schools?
Velez (1985) concludes that students who started at a four-year
college had a 19 percent higher probability of earning a baccalaureate degree
than those who began at a two-year school. Alba and Lavin (1981), in their
study of CUNY students, report similar negative effects of community college
attendance: ...students placed in the two-year schools did not stay as long
in school, earned fewer credits and were less likely to earn a baccalaureate
degree than academically similar students placed in the senior college
(P-235).
Dougherty (1987) in his examination of the results of several
longitudinal surveys of student educational attainment found similar negative
effects. That is, he reports ...70 percent of four-year college entrants
received a baccalaureate degree when followed up four to fourteen years
later, whereas only 26 percent of public two-year college entrants reached the
same destination (Dougherty, 1992, p.189). He goes on to assert that even
4


when comparing students with similar background characteristics, i.e. high-
school record, ability, aspirations, etc., students entering the community
college receive 11 to 19 percent fewer bachelors degrees and average one-
eighth to one-fourth a year less of higher education than similar students
entering four-year colleges (Dougherty, 1992). Lee and Frank (1990) also
found that community college students entering academically oriented
programs have a 10 to 20 percent less chance of receiving a bachelors
degree than comparable students who enter four-year colleges.
Although the reason why community colleges entrance seems to
hinder educational attainment are still open for debate, Dougherty (1992)
argues that they result from three factors: attrition in the community college,
difficulty transferring to the four-year school, and attrition after transfer, the
latter resulting from loss of credit, transfer shock, lack of financial aid, and
difficulty integrating into the four-year school. Glass and Bunn (1998) also
report that the most significant barrier to transfer perceived by students is loss
of credit.
Velez (1985) also claims there are several reasons for the negative
effects of two-year college attendance: first, students are more likely to be
exposed to peers that encourage them to leave an academic track for a more
vocational program; second, they are more likely to be dissatisfied with
5


certain aspects of the college environment, and therefore, are less likely to be
integrated into it; and finally, two-year students are more likely to have lower
achievement goals and expectations.
On the other hand, Lee and Frank (1990) found that the negative
effects of community colleges primarily result from the background
characteristics of their students. They argue community colleges are more
likely to enroll minority students, who have much less academic preparation
and lower achievement levels, and who come from families of considerably
lower social class (Lee and Frank, 1990). In other words, those students with
a higher social class, higher probability of being from the academic track,
higher test scores and grades in high school, and higher educational
aspirations characterize the background of those who transfer and eventually
complete a bachelors degree and those who do not (Lee and Frank, 1990).
Based on the findings of these studies, it is apparent that attending a
community college can have a negative impact on student achievement, and
ultimately, persistence at the four-year school.
Transfer Shock
One of the main reasons why community college transfer students are
less likely to obtain a bachelors degree is because of the difficulties they
encounter integrating and adjusting to the four-year institution. This next
6


section will examine the academic adjustment and integration issues
community college transfer students encounter in more detail.
The majority of research on transfer students adjustment and
integration has focused on their academic performance at the four-year
institution. More specifically, numerous studies have investigated transfer
shock, which is defined as a drop in grade-point average at the four-year
institution (Flaga, 2002). For instance, Glass and Harrington (2002) used
quantitative data to examine how community college students performed
academically at the four-year school as compared to native students. They
found that students primarily experienced transfer shock in their first
semester after transfer and their GPAs at the time of graduation were better
than those of native students (Glass and Harrington, 2002). In a similar
manner, in her meta-analysis of 62 transfer shock studies, Diaz (1992) found
that most transfer students (49 of the studies) did suffer from transfer shock
at least during their first semester at the receiving institution. However, she
also reports that of those 49 studies, 33 show that transfer students
recovered portions of their lost GPA, and more importantly, 12 of the studies
indicate that recovery of GPA was complete at graduation, sometimes even
eclipsing the pre-transfer GPA (Diaz, 1992). Diaz (1992) goes on to claim
that although transfer students in 79% of the studies experienced transfer
7


shock, the majority of GPA changes involved one half of a grade point or less.
Likewise, Jacobs (2004) found that transfer shock rarely persists after the
first semester and graduating two-year college transfer students appear to
perform in a manner comparable to that of non-transfer four-year students.
She did find a slight difference (.06) in GPA between transfers and non-
transfers at graduation.
In his review of research findings regarding transfer shock, Laanan
(2001) reports Of the studies that showed that community college transfer
students experience transfer shock, 67 percent reported that students
recover from transfer shock, within the first year after transfer (p.7-8).
However, Laanan (2001) also claims that even with an extensive amount of
research on the topic, transfer shock is not experienced by all students; in
fact, some students even experience transfer ecstasy an increase in GPA
- after transferring to the four-year institution. The transfer ecstasy
phenomenon appears to refute the notion that all community college transfer
students are less academically prepared than students at four-year
institutions (Rhine, Milligan, and Nelson, 2000).
This is reinforced by the work of Cejda (1997) who investigated the
GPAs of transfer students by academic discipline. He concludes that
students in the discipline of education, fine arts and humanities, and the
8


social sciences experience an increase in GPA after transfer (transfer
ecstasy); whereas, students majoring in business, mathematics, and the
sciences experience the expected transfer shock, or a decline in GPA after
transfer (Cejda, 1997). Based on Laanan and Cejdas findings, it is clear that
the phenomenon of transfer shock needs to be studied from various
perspectives, taking into consideration a students major, race, age, gender,
etc., granting us a more complete picture of the academic adjustment and
integration of community college transfer students.
Social Integration and Adjustment
However, the transfer shock literature only tells a portion of the story
of transfer student adjustment and integration. This next section will examine
the importance of social integration on community college transfer student
success and persistence at the four-year school. According to Laanan
(2004), the adjustment and integration process for community college transfer
students can be quite daunting: For transfer students, coming to a four-year
college or university requires numerous adjustments to the new environment
and institutional culture, including larger classes and campus size, increased
academic rigor, new friends, and a new location. (p.332). In their qualitative
study of transfer student experiences, Davies and Dickmann (1998) found
9


that many transfer students felt overwhelmed, dehumanized, depersonalized
and invisible after transferring to the four-year institution.
Tinto (1993), in his research on college students, discusses this
process in great detail, claiming that integration and adjustment consists of
three distinct stages: separation, transition, and incorporation. Separation
involves disassociation from past communities, in this case high school, and
transition connects the old community with the new. Incorporation occurs
when students, through involvement, establish their membership in both the
academic and social communities of the college campus (Tinto, 1993).
Without incorporation, the student is less likely to persist at the four-year
school.
Tinto (1993) goes on to assert that the absence of integration is the
result of incongruence and isolation. Incongruence refers to the lack of
institutional fit, or when students perceive themselves as being substantially
at odds with the institution. On the other hand, isolation ...refers to the
absence of sufficient interactions whereby integration may be achieved
(Tinto, 1993, p.50). In other words, it is the condition in which students find
themselves essentially isolated from the daily life of the institution (Tinto,
1993). Thus, if students experience either incongruence or isolation or both,
10


they are less likely to feel integrated into the institution and are more likely to
depart prior to degree completion.
In addition, integration into an institution may vary by race (Tinto 1993)
and gender (Pascarella and Terenzini, 1979). That is, the types of
involvements, activities, and relationships that enhance integration for white
students may not be the same as for students of color or for males and
females (Tinto, 1993; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1979).
Moreover, Tinto argues that the process of social integration is an
interactive one in which students play an active role in shaping their
environments and share the responsibility for their integration into the
institution. Davies and Kratky (2000) reinforce this in their qualitative study of
community college transfer students, asserting that students need to take
responsibility for and become more assertive in the transfer process. Brower
(1992) also concludes that students are active agents in shaping their
environment and must find their niche at the four-year school in order to be
successful academically and socially.
Numerous studies on student integration focus on the impact of
student involvement on campus. More particularly, based on Astins (1984)
Student Involvement Theory, greater student involvement in college results in
higher levels of student learning and development. Astin (1984) also asserts
11


that persistence rates were higher for students who lived and worked on
campus. These students were also more likely to be involved in
extracurricular activities, which facilitate their adjustment and integration into
the college.
Similarly, Christie and Dinham (1991) found that living on campus in
residence halls and participating in extracurricular activities enhances the
social integration of students. More particularly, they claim that living on
campus and participating in extracurricular activities influences social
integration by providing increased opportunities to meet and develop
friendships with other students, which more explicitly links and integrates
them into the college environment. They conclude by arguing that
involvement in activities that take away from campus-related activities, such
as students who spend a great deal of time with non-university high-school
friends or lived at home, is detrimental to persistence (Christie and Dinham,
1991). Baker and Velez (1996) also report that informal interactions with
faculty and staff and the more formal participation in extracurricular activities
foster students social integration.
In their study of 51 two-year and four-year public institutions, Strauss
and Holkwein (2004) report that student friendships and social involvement
are strongly related to student commitment and persistence at the four-year
12


school. The findings of Thomas (2000) underscore the important role
friendships play in the social integration of students, claiming that those
students with greater proportion of ties outside their peer group perform better
academically and are more likely to persist.
In a similar manner, Pascarella, Duby, and Iverson (1983) assert that
individuals with a higher level of social and academic integration will also
report higher levels of commitment to the institution. Interestingly, they also
found that social integration is a better predictor of persistence for residential
institutions and academic integration is more critical for retaining students at
commuter campuses.
Clearly then, by not focusing exclusively on academics and GPA,
these studies provide a much clearer picture of the complex nature of student
adjustment and social integration. According to Flaga though (2002), more
research is required to see if Tintos model and many of the other theories
mentioned above hold true for transfer students as well as freshmen.
13


CHAPTER THREE
METHODOLOGY
Research Question
The desire to determine what factors influence community college
transfer student integration at a large, urban four-year college, led to the
development of several research questions. The specific questions guiding
this research study are the following:
. What factors make community college transfer students feel most
connected and integrated into the college?
. In what ways can the four-year college help community college transfer
students feel more connected and integrated into the college?
Using a qualitative research design, I studied what factors affected the
integration of community college transfer students at Metropolitan State
College of Denver.
Participants and Site for the Study
I studied a group of transfer students during their first or second year at
Metro State College in Denver, Colorado. All of the students in the study
transferred to the college from a community college (they may have attended
another institution of higher education, but a community college was the most
recent college they attended).
14


The Metro State Office of Admissions provided the contact information
for two-hundred and fifty-three community college students who had
transferred to Metro State in either fall 2005 or spring 2006 and were enrolled
in classes for fall 2006. I sent an email to these students to recruit them for
this study. In addition, I sent an email to my colleagues around the campus,
asking them to email me the names of any transfer students they may know
who would be interested in being a part of this study. I had both male and
female students in various academic majors participate in the study.
Participants received a $10 gift certificate to Starbucks after attending a focus
group, as compensation for their time.
Nineteen students participated in one of the three focus groups and all
were from community colleges, or this was the most recent college they
attended. There was no minimum amount of time or number of credits they
must have completed prior to transferring in order to be a part of the study.
All of the students are commuters, since at the time of the study, Metro State,
had just begun to offer on-campus housing. Twelve female and seven male
students were included in the groups. The participants in the study self-
reported their ethnic background: eleven were white; five were Hispanic; two
were African American; and one was Pacific Islander.
15


Metro State was an excellent site to conduct this study, primarily since
it has a large number of transfer students. In fact, over 60% of all new
students each year transfer from another college/university. Since Metro
State is committed to attracting, enrolling and retaining its transfer students,
there was support for this project at many levels. In fact, the Vice President
of Student Services and my supervisor, the Associate Vice President of
Enrollment Services, graciously agreed to pay for the $10 gift certificate
students received for being a part of the study.
In addition, the fact that I work in the Office of Admissions, primarily
focusing on transfer students, assisted with the logistics of the study. I hope
that the results of my study can be used to improve the services we provide to
transfer students.
The participants also had to sign a consent form before being allowed
to participate in the focus groups. The recruitment email, the consent form,
and the interview guide are part of the Appendix. I also obtained Human
Subjects Review Committee approval from the college before initiating my
research.
16


Data Collection
Focus Groups
The method of collecting data for this study was focus groups.
Students were sent an email inviting them to participate in one of two, one
and a half hour long focus groups. An interview guide was developed to
guide the student discussions in the groups. Focus groups were chosen over
other forms of data collection because, through group interaction, they
produce concentrated amounts of data on precisely the topic of interest. In
addition, they were chosen because of their efficiency and their ability to
generate insight into the participants attitudes and opinions on the topic of
transfer student integration. In the focus groups, students were asked to
discuss any obstacles they encountered in transferring, what factors affected
their integration at the four-year college, and what the college and they could
do to enhance their integration after transferring. The focus groups were
analyzed qualitatively, which provided valuable insight into their transfer
experiences and integration at the four-year college.
Procedures
Pilot Study
The pilot study was conducted with a few students in order to test out
the focus group interview guide. The information gleaned from the pilot study
17


informed how the main study was conducted and clarified the interview guide
questions. The pilot study focus group was audiotaped, so it could be used
as a reference at a later date.
Main Study
Each of two main focus groups lasted one and a half hours and
participants were asked to attend only one group. The following is a timeline
of the study:
. Email to recruit students who met criteria, sent in fall semester 2006
. Two focus groups were held, both in September 2006
The focus groups were interesting and informative. I enjoyed being able
to learn about students transfer experiences from their perspective. Also, the
interaction within the group generated some interesting discussions.
The interviews were audiotaped, transcribed and analyzed. In
addition, I recorded field notes during the interviews. After transcribing the
discussions of the focus groups, I wrote up a brief summary of each group,
highlighting the major themes that arose and making note of the similarities
and differences between the groups.
Limitations
Since this was an extremely small study that focused on community
college transfer students, it was fairly limited in scope. However, the study
18


did provide an in-depth understanding of a small group of students. The
uniqueness of this research study serves as both a strength and a weakness.
Since all of the participants were from the same four-year institution and the
study was limited to the students who responded to the email, this was a
selective sample. Also, it is possible that the only students who agreed to
participate in the study were either extremely satisfied or dissatisfied with their
transfer experiences and wanted to tell someone about it. Furthermore, no
analysis was done of the data in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, or sexual
orientation. A clear disadvantage of being a full-time employee at the college
is that participants may have viewed me as an authority figure and thus been
less likely to truly share their experiences with me. Although, I would like to
have conducted more than three focus groups, I was limited by time and
money (the more students who participated, the more it would cost to pay
them for their time).
19


CHAPTER 4
ANALYSIS OF THE DATA
Using the principles of qualitative analysis, an extensive review of the
student data was conducted. I synthesized the data from the focus groups
into different themes, looking for commonalties and differences in
experiences across the groups. The following themes emerged across all the
groups: negotiating and connecting. More specifically, the students used
negotiating and connecting in the academic, social and physical environment
to enhance their integration after transferring to the college. In addition, in
order to integrate successfully by way of these two themes, the students had
to take much more initiative at Metro State than at their community college.
This next section will explore each of these themes, as well as the importance
of student initiative, in greater detail and discuss how they contribute to
student integration at a large four-year school.
Negotiating
For the purposes of this paper, I will define negotiation as the ways in
which students change their behavior and/or surroundings in order to be more
successful at Metro State (Flaga 2002). In negotiating, students take an
active role by either changing their own behavior or their environment.
Students negotiated in various ways to increase their integration into the
20


campus. For instance, one student changed from evening to day classes to
have better access to Metro services, resources, and faculty advisors, I didnt
find any problems with taking classes during the day, just when I was taking
classes at night, it was very, very difficult to get what I needed. She found
that as a night student, the offices she needed were closed and the faculty
had left for the day, so she negotiated the academic environment by changing
her behavior, i.e. time of day she took classes, to be able to access the
services she required to make her successful. Another student negotiated
the academic environment by changing her major because more of her
credits would apply to a liberal arts degree than a business major and she
would graduate sooner.
Students in each group negotiated the physical environment of the
campus to be more successful. For example, students in each group
complained about the hassle of parking on campus their first semester. I
probably would have went crazy with parking...I just didnt know where to
park, it is so expensive. Another student lamented, I also found the parking
situation frustrating, I usually get rides, or just get dropped off, so I dont have
to pay anything. And a third student commented,
It is daunting, I mean I remember having these mini anxiety attacks last
year...like, you know, coming from Red Rocks and these nice little tidy
21


classes and a very walk able campus and free parking, and it was like
where do I park, I cant believe how expensive it is.
Instead of dealing with the hassle and expense of parking, the students
negotiated the physical environment of the campus by changing their
behavior, i.e. finding other ways to get to school, such as carpooling or getting
dropped off.
Another example of this is several students in the groups came down
to campus before the semester started to find their way around and locate
their classes. This is an excellent example of how students negotiated the
physical aspects of the campus and took initiative to improve their chances of
success.
I had a map, I got it from online, so I mapped out my courses and knew
where they were all at before...I gave myself a self-tour so I knew
where things were at before I actually headed down to class.
Students also negotiated the social aspects of the campus to enhance
their integration. One student emphasized the importance of hanging out on
campus more at Metro to meet new people or get involved with a student club
to feel more connected.
With clubs, like student fees, I mean, the school does a lot with student
fees, if you take advantage of events and clubs, youll meet people no
doubt. You have to take initiative and a lot of students dont, they just
assume, Oh, commuter campus, Im not going to meet anyone.
22


Not only does this demonstrate how the students must change their behavior
to meet people and get connected, but it also shows how important student
initiative is in the negotiation process. If students dont take the initiative and
hang out more on campus and get involved in events and clubs, their ability
to connect with other students will suffer as will their integration into the
college.
In all of these examples, the students negotiated the academic, social,
or physical aspects of the college to enhance their integration and potential
for success at the college.
Connecting
The second major theme that emerged from the focus groups was the
importance of connecting. I will define connecting as the ways in which
students are engaged with the campus, both socially and academically (Flaga
2002). Connecting helps to make students feel more a part of the campus
community and is vital to their overall integration. For example, students in all
three groups were employed as work-studies in various offices at the college.
They all agreed that these jobs were essential in making them feel more
connected to the college. More specifically, through these jobs, students got
to know other students, who are a great source of information on where to go
23


and who to see to get things done. This also demonstrates the importance of
informal networks, i.e. other students, in helping students connect to the
college. In addition, these jobs enabled them to get to know faculty and staff,
and most importantly, how to navigate the system.
You know a lot more of the system when you actually work here.
When I wasnt actually working here I didnt know too much of what
was going on...but it is a lot easier being able to work here because
you have a lot more knowledge base of whats going on behind the
scenes, why things are and who does what.
Another student echoed these sentiments:
I guess one of the things that made me more connected was actually
working in work-study has given me the opportunity to know everything
going on campus, all the activities. I feel a lot more connected to,
maybe, this community because I always get emails and I always
see posters and its a lot easier to know whats going on and you have
a lot more accessibility to all the opportunities the college has to
offer...when I wasnt on work-study, I didnt feel connected at all.
Clearly, work-study jobs are invaluable in connecting students to the
academic and social environment of the college. It is important to note too
that students had to take initiative to seek out and apply for these jobs,
underscoring its importance in the connecting process.
Several students in the focus groups were student athletes. According
to these students, being involved in athletics facilitated their connection to the
academic and social environment of the college. That is, they hang out with
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each other, develop close relationships with one another and their coaches
and participate in study groups, all of which increase their connection to the
school.
I would say just because I play sports here made me feel really
connected to the college because you get to know people from other
sports cause you all hang out pretty much in the same vicinity so you
get to know a lot of people even though its a commuter college. And
then, people in your class are like Oh, how did you guys do? So they
talk to you and then you just feel a part of the school, and your
teachers are really interested.
A second student reaffirms this, It makes it a lot easier, youre always
around campus, I mean, like were here Monday through Saturday and in the
spring, Monday through Sunday...so youre always connected to the college.
Students also connect to the social and academic environment of the
college through departmental clubs, student clubs and/or student
government. These activities help students meet others and develop
relationships. It is these relationships that help students feel more a part of
and connected to the college. Once again, it is incumbent on the students to
be proactive and take initiative in order to get involved in these types of
activities.
Two students in the groups connected to the academic environment
through a Metro State Transfer Counselor who they met at their community
college, I got to know Dave Cisneros, hes the Transfer Counselor at the
25


campus, the Front Range campus I was at, and he actually made my
transition very smooth. These counselors make regular visits to local
community colleges and assist students in choosing courses at their school
that will transfer as well as with admissions requirements and the transfer
process. Transfer counselors help community college students connect with
the academic environment of the college, even prior to transferring.
The Reisher scholarship program was also mentioned by one student
as critical in helping her connect. Through this program, she was able to
meet other students, faculty, and staff who all supported and assisted her with
various aspects of college life, including mentoring and study groups: Mine
was being a Reisher Scholar, immediately I felt like I had a home, a home
base, I had peer advocates helping me if I needed anything...we had a lot of
direction and support from the very beginning. Therefore, by connecting with
the formal and informal networks of the college, this student feels more a part
of the campus and is more likely to be successful and persist.
And lastly, one student reported that accessibility and helpfulness of
faculty was essential in making her feel connected to the college.
I didnt know if I wanted to major in Spanish, and I went and talked to
the head of the department, and he sat with me and chatted with me
for 10 or 15 minutes, gave me an idea of the classes he really liked
and the classes he taught. This is the first semester that I actually
have a class with him and we really know each other.
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If the faculty in the students major were easily accessible and eager to assist
with degree planning, registering for classes, etc., students across all the
groups reported feeling more connected to the academic environment of the
college. However, students do have to take initiative to seek out faculty and
make a connection with them. Each of these examples demonstrates the
importance of the connecting process in facilitating the integration of transfer
students to the college.
The two main themes, connecting and negotiating, help to show how
transfer students integrate into the four-year college. Although students use a
variety of strategies to integrate, these two arose in the groups as the most
critical and the most frequently used. The students who are more effective at
connecting and negotiating will also feel more integrated, enhancing their
chances of success at the college.
Recommendations to Improve Services
The students in the groups also provided numerous suggestions on
how Metro could improve its services to transfer students and help them feel
more a part of the campus. Students in all three groups mentioned that Metro
needs to do a better job of advertising and promoting athletic games,
theatrical and musical performances, and other campus-wide events to get
27


students to attend them. They agreed that students would attend more
events on campus in they were aware of them, Yeah, I dont really know the
sports schedule or theatre or band or music or whatever, I dont really know
what they are doing. The benefit of attending these events is that students
would be able to connect with other students as well as faculty and staff,
which would help them feel more a part of campus.
Students also indicated that Metro needs to do a better job increasing
school pride. According to one student, this could be done by giving away
free Metro gear, such as hats, t-shirts, etc., and making the merchandise
more readily available throughout the city at a reasonable price. One student
suggested highlighting Metro alumni to a greater extent, That is, I think one
of our downfalls, is the visibility of alumni.
Two students felt the processing of their admissions application was
too slow and they were not notified of their acceptance in a timely fashion, It
took me like two months to find out I had been approved or accepted, oh like,
You got accepted in February and it was like April and I had called several
times and no one told me.
Also, students in each group expressed having difficulty with financial
aid, either not getting consistent information from the staff or having problems
with the processing of paperwork. These students suggested reviewing the
28


financial aid process to make it easier for students. In addition, several
students recommended that Metro develop a list of admissions steps students
must complete in the transfer process, which should be given to all students
prior to transferring. They agreed that this would assist them with the transfer
process and ensure that they completed all the necessary steps in the
process.
It might be helpful to have a list of things to do before coming in, a
certain date they should come to campus, and certain days they
should complete orientation by, steps of what they should do...like a
printed checklist.
And finally, students in all the groups mentioned that the signage
around campus is woefully inadequate. These students strongly
recommended improving the signage to make it easier for new students,
transfer or not, to find their way around and locate their classes their first
semester. The signage on campus, good grief, Im like, wheres West and is
it connected to the Arts building, I dont get it, Im like lost...the signage could
be way, way better.
All of these suggestions were mentioned in response to the question of
how Metro could improve services to transfer students to facilitate their
integration into the college. If Metro is able to implement any of these
suggestions, the integration of transfer students will surely improve.
29


Recommendations for Future Research
After completing this study, I have several suggestions for future
research in this area. One suggestion is to conduct a study focusing
specifically on student initiative in the process of transfer student integration.
More specifically, are there certain background characteristics that students
possess that make them more likely to take greater initiative in the connecting
and integrating process, which will enhance their success? Also, what can
the two-year and four-year college do to help them to take more initiative in
this process? Another idea for future research is to conduct a study on
students who leave the four-year school prior to completing their educational
goals. How do these students compare to those who do integrate and persist
at the four-year college? Do they possess certain characteristics which make
them more likely to be successful and persist? These are just a few
suggestions for future research dealing with transfer student integration at the
four-year school, which hopefully will enhance our understanding of this
complex topic.
Conclusion
Unfortunately, the research on transfer student integration at the four-
year college is lacking in the literature. The focus groups I conducted helped
to shed some light on this topic, but more research is needed to truly
30


understand the transition and integration issues they face. According to this
study, connecting, negotiating, and initiative are critical to the integration and
success of transfer students. Those who are more efficient using these tools
generally feel more connected to the campus and are less likely to leave prior
to achieving their educational goals. Furthermore, the college would be wise
to implement some of the recommendations given by students to improve the
services it offers to transfer students. Doing so would surely enhance the
integration of students after transferring, increasing the likelihood they will
persist and complete their degree at the college.
31


APPENDIX A
Focus Group Interview Guide
Have students begin by sharing the following information:
1- name
2- most recent school transferred from
Questions
1- Describe the biggest challenge or obstacle you faced in transferring to
Metro State?
2- Did anyone experience a drop in GPA your first semester at Metro State as
compared to your cumulative GPA at your previous school? If so, what do
you attribute this to?
3- What has made you feel the most connected to the college? Why?
(Please explain)
4- What do you think the college could do to help transfer students feel like
they belong and are more a part of the campus?
5- Did anyone experience difficulty adjusting to the physical aspects of the
campus, such as the size of the campus, finding your way around, etc.?
(Please explain)
6- What could you do personally to feel more connected to the college?
7- ls there anything else you would like to share about the transfer process or
your experience here at Metro State?
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APPENDIX B
Recruitment Email
Dear First Name,
I am writing to you to request your assistance with a research study I am
conducting regarding transfer students. I am interested in learning more
about the experiences of community college transfer students at Metro State
and how the college can improve the services we provide to them.
To gather the necessary data for this study, I invite you to participate in one of
two focus groups listed below. The groups will consist of 6 to 10 community
college transfer students and will last one to one and a half hours (you will
only be asked to attend one of these groups) and all of your responses will be
kept confidential. The groups will be held on the following dates/times in
Central Classroom Building, Room 108:
(Insert dates and times here)
If you are interested in participating in this important study and sharing your
experiences as a transfer student, please respond to this email by (insert
date). As an added benefit of participating in this study and to compensate
you for your time, you will receive $10 at the conclusion of the focus group.
I look forward to hearing back from you and am interested in learning more
about your transfer experiences.
Respectfully,
Vaughn Toland
Assistant Director of Admissions/Transfer Services
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APPENDIX C
Informed Consent Form
By signing this form, you are agreeing to be a part of a study investigating the
experiences of community college transfer students at Metro State. The
study will consist of 2 focus groups of 6 to 10 people. Total time commitment
for the focus group will no be more than 2 hours. I will not be including your
name or any other identifying information in the write-up of the results of this
study, so confidentially is assured. Also, your social security number will not
be included in any of the data collected for this study.
The results of this study will be used to complete the requirements of my
Masters thesis at CU-Denver and will be shared with the chair of my
department and my thesis committee and my superiors at Metro State.
If you experience any emotional stress as a result of being a part of this
study, services are available to assist you in the MSCD Counseling Center.
Also, your participation in this study is entirely voluntary and you can withdraw
at any time without penalty. And lastly, if you would like a copy of the final
report, let me know and I will provide one to you.
The guidelines for protecting the rights of human subjects that are in
operation in this study may be found on the college Web site at:
www.mscd.edu (click on Faculty and Staff and then Human Subjects Review
Procedures). If you have further questions regarding this study, you may
contact Professor Jeff Forrest, Chair of the MSCD Human Subjects
Committee at 303-556-4380.
By signing below, you acknowledge that you have read the above
information, are 18 years of age of older, agree to participate in the study, and
have received a copy of this consent form.
(Signature, Printed Name, Date)
34


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