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A Descriptive Study of Engineering Transfer Students at Four Institutions: Comparing Lateral and Vertical Transfer Pathways

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Two-Year College Division Transfer Topics Part I

Tagged Division

Two Year College Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.39.1 - 23.39.18



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Paper Authors


Erin Shealy Clemson University

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Erin Shealy is a master’s student studying Applied Sociology at Clemson University. Her bachelor’s degree is in Psychology, also from Clemson University. For the past two years, she has been serving as a graduate research assistant for an NSF-funded research project on engineering transfer students, part of the larger Multi Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Longitudinal Development (MIDFIELD) study.

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Catherine E. Brawner Research Triangle Educational Consultants

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Catherine E. Brawner is President of Research Triangle Educational Consultants. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Research and Policy Analysis from NC State University in 1996. She also has an MBA from Indiana University (Bloomington) and a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. She specializes in evaluation and research in engineering education, computer science education, teacher education, and technology education. Dr. Brawner is a founding member and former treasurer of Research Triangle Park Evaluators, an American Evaluation Association affiliate organization and is a member of the American Educational Research Association and American Evaluation Association, in addition to ASEE. Dr. Brawner is also an Extension Services Consultant for the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) and, in that role, advises computer science departments on diversifying their undergraduate student population. She currently serves as the principal evaluator for the Teachers Attracting Girls to Computer Science project which aims to increase and diversify the student population studying computer science in high school. Dr. Brawner previously served as principal evaluator of the NSF-sponsored SUCCEED Coalition. She remains an active researcher with MIDFIELD, studying gender issues, transfers, and matriculation models in engineering.

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Catherine Mobley Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Clemson University

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Dr. Mobley is a Professor of Sociology at Clemson University. In recent years, her research has focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, sustainability, environmental sociology, and policy and advocacy. Her focus is on identifying the human factors (cultural, social, economic and political) that influence environmental and educational policies. She has more than 15 years experience in developing surveys (traditional and web-based), conducting in-depth interviews, and moderating focus groups. In 2004, Dr. Mobley joined the NSF-funded MIDFIELD interdisciplinary research team which is examining the educational pathways of engineering students at eleven universities. She is currently serving as Co-PI and is co-leading the qualitative component of a project on transfer students in engineering.

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Richard A. Layton Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Richard Layton is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology with a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. His professional work includes student teaming, persistence, migration, and retention of engineering undergraduates, and consulting in data visualization and graph design. He is also a singer and songwriter.

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A Descriptive Study of Engineering Transfer Students at Four Institutions: Lateral vs. Vertical Transfer PathwaysBackground: Transfer students account for a large percentage of the postsecondarypopulation in engineering and many other disciplines. Given the increase in numbers overtime, an exploration of the varying transfer pathways deserves attention. However, muchof the literature on transfer students focuses on vertical transfer, or movement from a 2-year institution to a 4-year institution; this is especially the case for engineering transferstudents. Less attention is paid to those students who make a lateral transition betweeninstitutions of a similar type (i.e., from one two-year institution to another or from onefour-year institution to another). Research suggests that these transfer students differfrom the traditional transfer student who moves from a 2-year to 4-year institution. Thus,it is important to better understand the content and character of lateral transfer studentexperiences to improve student retention and success.In this paper, we explore the student pathways and experiences of students who transferfrom one institution to another in their pursuit of a baccalaureate degree in engineering.We report the descriptive characteristics of students at four large public institutions thatare members of the Multiple Institution Database for Engineering LongitudinalDevelopment (MIDFIELD) partnership. Study data were obtained from the interviewrecruitment questionnaire sent to prospective interviewees. The survey asked students toreport all of the previous institutions they had attended.Findings: The descriptive data provide a more complete picture of engineering studentpathways toward a baccalaureate degree at these four institutions. Our initial results(from two institutions and 63 survey respondents) reveal that 84% of the studentsreported transferring directly from a four-year institution. Thus, our initial findings runcounter to the literature on transfer students which focuses on the vertical pathway.Our final paper will include data from two additional institutions, one of which is knownto have many transfer students from community colleges. Our analysis incorporatesinformation about whether students’ most recent previous institutions were in-state orout-of-state. We also integrate information about the presence of articulation agreementsand dual-degree programs. From our interview data, we infer some guiding motivatorsfor lateral transfer based on the student accounts of their experiences with the transferprocess. The final paper highlights the character of transfer pathways in engineering byfocusing on the often-overlooked lateral transfer track. The study results would be ofinterest to faculty, staff and policy makers interested in improving the retention andsuccess of transfer students in engineering. Ultimately, student success could beimproved with more detailed knowledge about the complex nature of student transferpathways.

Shealy, E., & Brawner, C. E., & Mobley, C., & Layton, R. A. (2013, June), A Descriptive Study of Engineering Transfer Students at Four Institutions: Comparing Lateral and Vertical Transfer Pathways Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19053

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