Community colleges are often touted as cost-effective gateways to four-year universities for academically talented low-income students. However, four-year institutions often play an insignificant role in turning this promise into reality. Funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Program (S-STEM) program, the Virginia Tech Network for Engineering Transfer Students (VT-NETS) project focuses to improve collaboration efforts between Virginia Tech (VT), and two primary community college partners: Virginia Western Community College (VWCC), and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). The primary project objective of VT-NETS is to determine how a four-year institution can increase the success and efficiency of engineering transfer through community college-to-bachelor’s degree pathways, increasing attainment of A.S. and B.S. degrees in engineering by students from underrepresented groups. From a research perspective, we do so by analyzing both academic and non-academic factors that promote student access and progress through the community college to university pathway to the engineering industry, as well as identifying common barriers which are prohibitive in the pathway.
Leveraging quantitative analyses of student data for transfer and non-transfer students in engineering, as well as qualitative data collected from interviews and focus groups with students and key faculty and staff stakeholders working within the transfer space, we expand current work on transfer student capital, articulation agreement efficacy, transfer support services, enrollment and guaranteed transfer policies, coursework transfer processes, and co-curricular support programs. Our poster will highlight major findings thus far, including the: impact of integrating community college students into university study abroad programs as a cohort of support for transfer students; complexity of pre- and co-requisite course structures delaying degree progress; challenges in transfer of coursework processes and policies; critical combinations of courses that inhibit academic success for first semester transfer students; and learnings from cross-institutional grant partnerships for community colleges with universities. The poster showcases the impact of collaborative partnerships to improve our understanding of transfer pathways, what parts of community college-university partnerships effectively support student access and success, and what gaps exist that become barriers for transfer students to degree attainment in engineering.
Advancing a key deliverable from this NSF grant, our project serves as an example for how to establish stronger networks between a university and the state community college system. Further, we provide a guide for four-year institutions and community colleges educators to develop new interventions which enhance transfer pathways as well as identify pitfalls or gaps in services and transfer structures that need be remedied. Ultimately, these findings illuminate and help prioritize the human, financial, and physical resources dedicated towards supporting all transfer students in engineering.
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