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Keeping students informed of the transfer process.

Abstract

This article resulted from an action research project conducted to explore ways in which California community colleges could increase student awareness of the university admission and major-course requirements, encourage student utilization of community college student transfer services designed to inform, advise, and guide students seamlessly through the transfer process, and increase student transfer success.

Introduction

As a California community college transfer service provider with several years experience, an increase in the number of transfer students who are unaware of changes to the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) admission process and lower-division, major prerequisite requirements has become evident. If left uninformed the transfer goals of these students could be adversely affected. Spurred by this observation, an action research project was conducted by this researcher at Butte Community College in Northern California to determine how community college transfer service providers could increase student awareness of the changes to the university admission process and lower-division prerequisites to ensure the students experience a seamless transition to the university of their choice. The action research project focused on age and enrollment status of the California community college student population, challenges transfer students lace, and the preconceptions and expectations of services the students bring with them to determine how effectively community college student transfer services meet the needs of today's students. Research also focused on how the environment could affect student usage of transfer services, and how collaboration with university partners could improve student awareness of the transfer process.

The Challenges

Access from a community college to a university used to be easy, but recent changes to the CSU and UC admission process and lower-division, major prerequisite requirements has created challenges that students must conquer to avoid adverse affects to their transfer progress. Livingston and Wirt (2003) describes some of the challenges that today's community college transfer students must conquer, such as enrollment restrictions that are making it harder for transfer students to gain access into the university. Other challenges include class reductions that are generating competition among students to get the classes they need to become transfer-ready. Livingston and Wirt also described how increases in tuition and material costs are producing financial challenges for low-income students and changes to the university admission requirements are causing students to experience setbacks to their transfer timelines. Changes to the CSU and UC policies are also challenging community college transfer service providers. The action research project explored ways in which student transfer service providers could increase utilization of community college student transfer services to ensure all transfer students experience a seamless transfer to the university of their choice.

Traditional and Nontraditional Students

Today's students bring with them a diverse set of conceptions of how they will accomplish their educational goals. In order to gain a perspective of the California community college student population, this action research project focused on two characteristics found among all students--age and enrollment status. According to a ten-year study conducted by the California Postsecondary Education Commission (2000, 2-13 (C)), also referred to as CPEC, 53.07 percent of the California community college student population were twenty-five years of age or over. These students are more apt to be nontraditional students who are head of households with dependent children to support. Nontraditional students tend to bring with them diverse, self-directed educational strategies with preconceived expectations of services to be provided. The remaining 46.93 percent of the community college student population consists of those twenty-four and under. The study indicated that students in this age range are more apt to be traditional students who are more likely to not have dependent children to provide for, are receiving some sort of financial support from family members, and tend to seek out services that will direct their educational strategies for them.

The California Postsecondary Education Commission (2000), 2-8 (C)) also studied the enrollment status among the California community college student population and revealed that 72.71 percent of the California community college students enrolled part-time. The study indicates that students enrolled part-time are more apt to be nontraditional students who are more likely to follow this strategy to avoid the high cost of university tuition while completing transferable courses, and because it affords them the opportunity to immediately apply what they have learned at their place of employment. The remaining 27.29 percent of the California community college students enrolled full-time are more likely to be traditional students, as they tend to have fewer outside responsibilities than nontraditional students and more time to focus on their educational endeavors. Understanding the expectations of these two student groups could ensure that community college transfer service providers meet the needs of all students.

Student Expectations

De Los Santos and Wright (1989) described the community college transfer function as a linear relationship between 2-year and 4-year colleges, designed to assist traditional transfer students in experiencing a seamless transfer from the community college to the university of the student's choice. Townsend (2001) indicated that the community college transfer function fails to meet the complex patterns exhibited by nontraditional students who bring with them different expectations of student transfer services to be provided by today's community colleges. De Los Santos and Wright (1989) also revealed five differences between the services nontraditional students expect and services expected by traditional students. Nontraditional students expect their responsibilities outside the educational environment to be recognized and considered. They want the knowledge and skills they bring with them acknowledged. They expect to be able to immediately use what they learn, and tend to be self-directed and motivated towards developing strategies that will meet the specific objectives they have in mind. Above all, nontraditional students want ownership of their educational goals.

De Los Santos and Wright (1989) further indicated that traditional students have fewer responsibilities outside the educational environment, thus they are more apt to expect recognition and consideration of their responsibilities within the educational environment. Traditional students are just learning the skills and knowledge they need to be productive members of society, thus they are more apt to exhibit less confidence in their ability to immediately apply what they have learned. Traditional students are more apt to seek educational guidance to formulate their educational strategies for them. Finally, traditional students are less apt to claim ownership of their educational endeavors. With this perspective of student service expectations, the action research project turned towards determining if community college student transfer services effectively meet the needs of all students.

Transfer Services

The California Community College Chancellor's Office and the California Community College Transfer Center Directors' Association (1997) described academic transfer services provided by community college transfer counselors. Such examples of academic transfer services provided by transfer counselors included assisting students with petitions to repeat a course in order to raise a substandard grade or with financial aid excess units to ensure continued financial assistance, and providing constructive feedback and academic guidance. Examples of academic guidance included the development of a major-school specific Student Education Plan (SEP) to ensure that the student meets the minimum general education requirement guidelines specific to the student's choice of university and major. This is accomplished by designing the student's SEP to meet the University of California Intersegmental General Education Transfer Courses guidelines for UC-bound students, the California State University General Education guidelines for CSU-bound students, or the independent University General Education Breadth guidelines for students transferring to a private university. Transfer counselors also assist students in completing Transfer Admission Agreements with participating UC partners, which guarantees the student admission into the major and UC of the student's choice.

The Transfer Center front-office staff provides students with transitional support services. The university admission-application process begins one year in advance of transfer, which creates additional pressure on students when they should be focusing on their current academic endeavors. Bridges (1991) described such transitions as a frightening experience that can lead to anger, frustration and anxiety that can adversely affect the student's persistence towards academic success. Transitional support services are designed to support the students throughout their transitional stages of the transfer process and beyond. They do so by connecting students with university services and programs for further assistance before, during, and alter the student successfully transfers to the university.

Wiggins (1998) indicated that when the opportunity to receive useful feedback is absent, then misunderstanding occurs. Frontline service providers supply students with useful information and feedback designed to enhance the academic services provided by transfer counselors by keeping the students informed of university policy changes throughout their university transfer process. According to Brooks (2002), "... students feel safe and act self-disciplined when they feel they have the personal power that comes from questions and answers that are authentic and contextual rather than legislated or obligatory." (p. 27). While the frontline staff guides students through the transitional process, the transfer counselors guide students through their academic progress. With this perception of transfer services, the action research project turned towards the determining what affect the environment has on student utilization of student transfer services.

The Service Environment

The transfer process is a learning experience. Understanding the impact that the environment has on learning could assist transfer service providers in exploring ways to ensure that the environment in which student transfer services are provided are effectively meeting the needs and expectations of today's transfer students. The California Community College Chancellor's Office, and the California Community College Transfer Center Directors' Association (1997) stated, "Significant improvement will not occur if responsibility for an institution's transfer function becomes a compartmentalized and isolated function" (p. 5). Brooks and Brooks (1993) indicated that in a more social setting, students are more apt to share the energy of academic success, connect with the thoughts of other students, and receive, as well as give informative feedback. Brooks (2001) stated, "... Learning how to deal with the uncertainty and ambiguity embedded in all important real-life problems is minimized rather than fostered." (p. 107). Brooks indicated that by adopting a constructivist view of learning the service providers can better assist the students with uncertainty and help them stay focused. By maintaining an environment that is flexible, relevant, and responsive to the needs of the student, then the results could be measurable and achievable.

A new service, developed in collaboration with the Transfer Center Coordinator at the research site, was introduced to instructors at the research site in fall 2004. The service, called Don't Cancel That Class, affords instructors the opportunity to have a presentation focused on transfer services and university policy changes provided to their class by a transfer service provider when prior commitments, such as scheduled flex workshops or teacher's conferences, would otherwise have required the instructor to cancel that class session. Utilizing the classroom environment to conduct these in-class service presentations resulted in an 86 percent increase in student exposure to university policy changes and student transfer services, and the class is not cancelled. The response for this new service was so successful that implementation of guidelines had to be introduced to keep the services within the limitations of the presenter's time availability. The action research project turned towards determining how collaboration with CSU partners could be enhanced to ensure all students experience successful transfer.

Conclusion

Students quickly become savvy to the locations on a campus that allows them to reflect, connect, and collaborate. A community college transfer service environment that attracts the student's curiosity, imagination, and creativity could increase utilization of student transfer services. Providing a transfer service environment that engages the students with thoughtful feedback on their educational progress, connects them with colleagues with the same transfer goals, and provides them additional services through collaboration with university partners can greatly benefit the students.

Transfer service providers must be adept at simultaneously tolerating significant levels of uncertainty while sorting out key questions and responding to multiple student needs. Transfer service providers who are constructivists at heart could better deal with ambiguity and stay focused in the face of distractions. Affording transfer service providers the opportunity to continually enhance their understanding of the student population served could provide transfer service providers the opportunity to intertwine the services the student expects with the services the student needs, thus ensuring that the transfer services provided offer the proper support, guidance and feedback while meeting the needs of all students. As Townsend (2001) stated, These new patterns necessitate a redefinition of the community college transfer mission as a function that facilitates attainment of a baccalaureate degree for college students in general, not just for student who begin their undergraduate education in a 2-year college (p. 39).

Through continued information sharing between the 2-year and 4 year colleges and provision of an adequate learning environment community college transfer service providers could increase the number of students served. This, in turn, will lead to increased transfer success rates while ensuring the students experience a smooth and seamless transfer to the university of the student's choice.

References

Bridges, Wm. (1991). Managing transitions: Making the most of change. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.

Brooks, J. G. (2002). Schooling for life: Reclaiming the essence of learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Brooks, J. G., and Brooks, M. G. (1993). In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Department.

California Community college Chancellor's Office and California Community College Transfer Center Directors' Association (1997). Transfer: Recommended guidelines. Retrieved August 4, 2004, from http://misweb.cccco.edu

California Postsecondary Education Commission. (2000, November). Student profiles, 2000 (Commission Report 00-8), 2-8(C), 2-13(C). Sacramento, CA.

De Los Santos, A.G., and Wright, I. (1989, summer). Community college and university student transfers: Maricopa community college district and Arizona state university put transfer patterns in perspective. The Educational Record, 70(3/4), 82.

Townsend, B. K. (2001). Redefining the community college transfer mission. Community college Review, 29(2), 31.

Livingston, A., and Wirt, J. (2003, June). The condition of education in 2003 in brief (NCES 2003-068). Jessup, MD: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.

Wiggins, G. P. (1998). Feedback: How learning occurs. Retrieved April 21, 2004, from http://www.classnj.org

Gloria R. De Tro, Butte-Glenn Community College

De Tro is a Fielding Graduate University alumnus in Collaborative Educational Leadership who has been providing transfer services to community college students since 1994.
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Author:De Tro, Gloria R.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2005
Words:2379
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