Understanding Transfer Student Pathways to Engineering Degrees: A Multi-Institutional Study Based in Texas

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Virginia Tech


In recent decades, recruitment and retention efforts to meet workforce demands and broaden participation in colleges of engineering across the country have focused primarily on catering to the needs of first-year, traditional age college students who matriculate from high school into 4-year institutions. While these efforts have moved the needle on enrollment and retention for undergraduate students in engineering, growth and improvement measures have started to taper in recent years. To meet current and future workforce demands for more STEM professionals in the United States, we must be creative about how to move beyond this ceiling effect; and, great potential exists among the growing population of students who begin their pursuit of a higher education at institutions other than 4-year public/private colleges.

The purpose of this study is to increase understanding of engineering transfer students and their experiences at both sending and receiving institutions. Part of a larger mixed methods research investigation, this study draws on survey data from a sample of 1,070 engineering transfer students who transferred to one of four 4-year Texas institutions as new engineering students between 2007 and 2014. Research sites include four of the top ten producers of U.S. Hispanic/Latino engineers; and the framework for transfer student capital was used to organize this study's data collection and analytical plan.

Structured as a manuscript style dissertation, this investigation offers a synthesis of recent literature on engineering transfer students and yields important findings on engineering transfer student movement through the higher education system at two distinct phases: 1) at the beginning of their higher education pathways in an investigation of students' reasons for starting at another institution and factors that influence their decisions to transfer; and 2) at the phase immediately following transfer in an investigation of the transition experience for students who transfer to a 4-year institution. For each phase, I identify emergent constructs and explore differences across subgroups of engineering transfer students (i.e., type of institution - selective versus open enrollment; type of transfer pathway - lateral versus vertical; student status as Hispanic/Latino; student status as first generation).

This research joins and expands the small body of literature on engineering transfer students and brings data to higher education administrators so they can make more informed adjustments to existing institutional policies and practices that impact students as they transfer to engineering programs at 4-year institutions. Last, findings from this study also advance the current state of community college research on transfer students more generally.



transfer pathways in engineering, broadening participation, transfer receptivity, student persistence, transfer student capital, integration, post-transfer transition process