The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology documented the need to prepare more than 1 million additional STEM professionals in the U.S. workforce over the next decade, primarily through efforts focused on increasing retention rates and diversifying pathways. To meet this need, we must tap the entire domestic talent pool, including underrepresented minorities. According to data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics, 57% of Hispanic students and 52% of African American students in undergraduate education during Fall 2014 were enrolled in 2-year public colleges. Given that more ethnic/racial minorities begin their pursuit of higher education at schools other than 4-year institutions, it is critical that we improve transfer pathways into engineering.
The purpose of this mixed methods research was to develop a clearer understanding of transfer student pathways as a means to increase engineering degree production and broaden participation in engineering careers. The study sites for this research included 4 of the top 10 producers of U.S. Hispanic engineers, and all are based in Texas: The University of Texas at El Paso, Texas A&M University, The University of Texas at Austin, and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Our study expands the small body of literature on engineering transfer students and sheds light on specific policies and practices that impact transfer.
Specifically, our investigation addressed the following research questions:
1.) How does transfer student capital relate to academic achievement and degree attainment for transfer engineering students at 4-year institutions?
2.) How do Hispanic and non-Hispanic transfer students compare on measures of transfer student capital and its relation to academic achievement and degree attainment?
3.) How do students decide to transfer into engineering at a 4-year institution?
4.) What institutional policies facilitate success and enable transfer pathways into engineering at 4-year universities?
5.) How do institutions hinder transfer students in their transitions into engineering at 4-year universities?
To address these research questions, the project was organized in two sequential phases: 1) a quantitative phase with survey data collected from 1,070 students and alumni who successfully made the transfer to a four-year engineering school combined with student performance data from institutional records for each respondent, and 2) a qualitative phase that gathered data via 18 semi-structured focus groups with 84 students, administrators, faculty, and staff who were either transfer students or whose university roles require interaction with and support of transfer students. Focus groups were held at each four-year institution as well as at their partner community colleges, which allowed for investigations of the system from both the 4-year and community college perspectives. The objectives of these interviews were to identify: 1) institutional policies and practices that facilitate success and enable transfer pathways into engineering at 4-year universities for transfer students, 2) ways institutions hinder transfer students in their transition to engineering at 4-year universities, and 3) ways institutions help students accumulate and leverage their transfer student capital. With all data collected as of Summer 2016, our NSF Grantees poster will provide an update on project findings.
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