The Relationship between Environmental Conditions and Transfer Rates of Selected Rural Community Colleges: A Pilot Study

By Higgins, C. Steven; Katsinas, Stephen G. | Community College Review, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

The Relationship between Environmental Conditions and Transfer Rates of Selected Rural Community Colleges: A Pilot Study


Higgins, C. Steven, Katsinas, Stephen G., Community College Review


Defining external and internal environmental conditions as independent variables and institutional transfer rate as the dependent variable, the authors investigate the relationship between transfer rates and conditions that are beyond an institution's control (such as service area demographics and the degree of specificity in state articulation and transfer policies). Based on a three-phase analysis that involved multiple regression, factor analyses, and two-tailed t tests, the authors define negative and positive influences on transfer rates and discuss recommendations for further research.

Transfer--that function of the comprehensive community college that facilitates the movement of students to four-year colleges and universities for baccalaureate degree attainment--was one of the founding purposes of the two-year college nearly a century ago. Arguably, transfer remains one of the most important mission components, offering students opportunities for access to and acquisition of the social and economic benefits that can be obtained through a baccalaureate. Moreover, transfer is generally considered the most prestigious function as it serves to position the community college in the graded system of higher education (Cross, 1985). Yet of all the varied mission components (which typically include vocational and career education, remediation, adult education, and community service), the effectiveness of the transfer function likely remains the most difficult to assess. Thwarting the evaluation of the transfer function are difficulties in arriving at causal relationships between the myriad variables that can potentially influence the transfer process and transfer itself. Assessment is further complicated by a lack of reliable trend data in the form of transfer rates, including a consistent definition of what actually constitutes transfer. And although most studies have been concerned with the magnitude of transfer rates and the characteristics of those students who typically transfer, only a few have quantitatively examined the institutional conditions that promote transfer success (Palmer & Eaton, 1991).

In one of the earliest of these studies, Alkin and Hendrix (1967) examined the relationship between transfer rates and measures of financial support and community characteristics of 15 California community colleges. McIntyre (1987) studied the effects of 15 student, college, and community characteristics upon the transfer rates of 100 California community colleges. Berman and Weiler (1990, p. 21) explored the "environmental contexts" of 28 institutions across 13 states, noting the "legal, fiscal, economic, demographic, regulatory, and social factors" that can either limit or enhance transfer activity. Banks (1992) also studied environmental factors, examining 78 community colleges located across 15 states. What these researchers did not do, however, was to frame their examinations on the basis of a particular community college type. As Palmer and Eaton note, "Most studies treat community colleges as a unitary and hence homogenous entity. Thus, the question of whether a student's probability of transfer is affected by the community college that he or she attends remains largely unanswered" (1991, p. 32).

The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate specific environmental conditions to determine their relationship to the transfer rates of selected rural community colleges. Such institutions have been described in the literature as most closely resembling the model of "comprehensiveness" first proposed by the early community college pioneers. Offering both transfer and vocational curricula, rural community colleges are often the only centers for the fine arts and the singular forums for political debate and civic discussion in their respective service areas--areas, which are usually of considerable size (Atwell & Sullins, 1984; Killacky & Valadez, 1995). Rural community colleges also enroll nearly 1. …

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