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Easing The Transition From The Community College To The Four Year University

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

First-Year Advising and Transition

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.504.1 - 14.504.9

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Paper Authors

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Charles McDowell University of California, Santa Cruz

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Adrienne Harrell University of California, Santa Cruz

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Easing the Transition from the Community College to the Four- Year University


Without special support programs to help them out, community college students transferring to four-year universities have some clear disadvantages upon arrival at the four-year university. Compared to their classmates that have already been at the university for two years, they don't know the faculty, they may not know any other students, they don't know where to go for help, and the courses they took as pre-requisites for their upper division work, although articulated, generally are not perfect matches for the ones taken by their “native” classmates.

We present data that supports the hypothesis that indeed these transfer students do not fare as well with regard to retention in the intended major and time to graduation. We also describe our Engineering Transfer Transition Program, a one-week residential summer program for new transfer students, and provide some preliminary data that indicates this program is helping ease the transition for the students that participate.


Community college students that transfer to four-year institutions face many challenges both academic and non-academic9. One widely studied impact of these challenges is transfer shock, a dip in the GPAs of transfer students during the first one or two terms after transfer6. Although believed to be nearly universal, transfer shock is generally not severe10 and Cantrell et al.1 have theorized that pre-transfer support programs are one technique that can be used to help transfer students get through their transfer shock and “experience the rewards of their efforts.”

We were interested in comparing how well our transfer students were doing in comparison with their native classmates. One measure of success is how long a student takes to graduate and do they ever graduate. The most commonly used metric for graduation and retention rates is the “6- year” graduation rate or 150% of the normal time to degree7. By that time nearly all students will have graduated or left the university. An anonymous reviewer noted that if you apply the 150% rule to the time transfer students are expected to spend at the four-year institution then the equivalent metric for junior transfer students would be three years from the time of transfer. Because we wanted to compare junior transfer students with their native junior classmates, we felt it appropriate to give both groups four years from the start of the junior year (the 6-year rule for natives). We realize that some natives will take more than two years to achieve junior standing, thus having less than four years to complete starting from their junior year. Other students, entering the university with advanced placement credits, may take less than two years to become juniors. At the same time, junior transfer students often will have spent more than two years prior to transfer. Nevertheless, we believe it is informative to compare the 6-year graduation rates for our native students with the 4-year (at UCSC) graduation rates of our junior transfers.

McDowell, C., & Harrell, A. (2009, June), Easing The Transition From The Community College To The Four Year University Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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