Academic journal article Journal of Applied Research in the Community College

Challenges and Support: Transfer Experiences of Community College Engineering Students

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Research in the Community College

Challenges and Support: Transfer Experiences of Community College Engineering Students

Article excerpt

The productivity and creativity of a skilled science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce influences the quality of life, health of the U.S. economy, and the competitiveness of the nation (National Science Council, 2008). The demand for trained STEM professionals is expected to exceed all other occupations in the country between 2012 and 2022 (Vilorio, 2014). The current administration in Wash ington has demonstrated a strong commitment to increase the number of STEM graduates, such as directly addressing the importance of STEM education to the public, establishing nationwide committees on STEM education, developing strategic plans, and allocating national resources to support innovative approaches of teaching and learning in STEM. Despite the national efforts to develop the domestic STEM workforce, enrollment in and the number of STEM degree recipients has remained relatively stagnate for the past two decades (National Science Board, 2012). Given the stagnation in STEM degree recipients, community colleges have a unique opportunity to increase the number of students in the STEM degree pipeline.

Community colleges are essential in American higher education, and community college transfer students can contribute to the growing demands for STEM graduates generally, and engineering specifically. There is a large body of literature on transfer students' characteristics, learning outcomes, and their experiences in both community colleges and four-year universities. For instance, transfer students are likely to experience "transfer shock," which was originally coined to describe students' GPA decrease upon enrolling at a four-year institution (Hill, 1965). This term was then expanded to explain "other academic and social factors that can result in student attrition and ultimate failure to achieve a bachelor's degree" (Rhine, Milligan, & Nelson, 2000, p. 443). Additionally, transfer students may feel stigmatized because of their transfer status (Laanan, Starobin & Eggleston, 2010). They often experience difficulties making new friends, feel challenged to integrate into the new environment, and are less engaged in four-year institutions (Ishitani & McKitrick, 2010; Townsend & Wilson, 2006).

Compared with studies of community college transfers students of all majors, research on transfer students in engineering is relatively limited. This gap is important to address as some scholars (Arnold, 2001; Mattis & Sislin, 2005) found that engineering transfer students experienced a higher degree of transfer shock and encountered more challenges than transfers in the social sciences and humanities disciplines; this discrepancy was attributed to the lack of preparation for upper division STEM courses. In addition, researchers (Blash et al., 2012) found that engineering transfers are challenged by limited lower division course offerings at community colleges, which created difficulties satisfying transfer requirements that varied among four-year institutions. Scholars (Sullivan et al., 2012) have also noted that non-transfers typically outperform engineering transfer students academically. Therefore, more research is needed in this area to provide insight for community college practitioners on how to better support and prepare their engineering students for coursework at four-year institutions.

Few research studies have investigated the experiences of engineering transfer students (i.e., Arnold, 2001; Blash, et al., 2012; Concannon & Barrow, 2009; Sullivan, et al., 2012), yet most have focused on students' academic performance upon transferring to a four-year university. While these studies shed light on engineering transfers' performance at four-year institutions, they do not contribute a thorough understanding of their experiences in the transfer process. Thus, the purpose of this qualitative study was to provide a comprehensive view of transfer experiences of engineering students by understanding their challenges in the transfer process and identifying the individuals and resources that supported their successful transition. …

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