Enhancing Transfer Student Success: The Transfer Seminar
Thomas J. Grites and Amanda Farina
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
Transfer students arguably constitute the largest and most diverse sub-population of college students today, and it is growing, especially in light of the national economy, rising student loan debt, and significant grant funding being channeled to community colleges, whose students constitute the majority of transfer students (Grites and Duncan, 2012). The issues that confront these students are multi-dimensional, yet often go unnoticed at the receiving institution.1 No matter where the student attended previously, the new institution will most likely have different policies, academic standards, faculty expectations, advising systems, peer groups, and even vocabulary, leaving the transfer student uninformed, uninvolved, and adrift if they are not addressed. Assumptions made by both the students and the receiving institutions as to how these new students should be acclimated contribute to the lack of a systematic orientation that would enhance a successful transition and contribute to a better higher education experience.
“Transfer shock,” a term introduced by Hills (1965) and since amplified by many others, typically results in a lower GPA in the transfer student’s first term at the new institution and may lead to some transfer students’ early departure from the new institution. Some of the conditions that contribute to this characteristic include simply being overwhelmed by the new environment; fear of loss of credits; policy and procedure barriers such as a lack of transcript reviews prior to admission and/or of low priority in registration; ignorance of faculty expectations, course demands, and their own academic abilities relative to other students; leaving home for the first time; and being part of an invisible peer group—other transfer students are not readily identifiable to new transfer students on the campus.
An attempt to address these characteristics and issues for transfer students has been implemented at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey through the identification of faculty who are especially aware and supportive of the difficult transition for transfer students, and of courses in which only new transfer students are permitted to enroll. The balance of this paper describes the evolution of this concept, both quantitative and qualitative analyses of its success, and suggestions for adaptation and implementation in other public colleges and universities. The programmatic effort described here reflects several initiatives of the Red Balloon Project, including new models of enrollment management, faculty engagement, curriculum, course design, and instructional design. The “transfer seminar” concept can be adapted to almost any curricular structure at any institution that has a significant transfer student population and/or that seeks to enhance the success of its transfer students. The concept is based on the Freshman Seminar course concept that exists in various formats, mostly in four-year institutions. The unique feature of the program described here is that it uses already existing courses to provide a transitional experience for transfer students that had been absent, perhaps ignored, until a pilot seminar course was attempted. Since the pilot in fall 2003, more than 30 different courses have been designated as “transfer seminars,” and the recent Middle States accreditation and reaffirmation report cites this activity in suggesting that “the institution may wish to consider whether the transfer seminar should be required” of all transfer students (Middle States, 2012).
Evolution of the Transfer Seminar
Richard Stockton College began offering Freshman Seminars in the mid-1980s. These Seminars were required of all new first-time freshmen and those transfer students who transferred fewer than 16 credits, since the latter were subject to the same academic requirements as those who had never attended college. The architects of these Seminars (faculty) did not want to add new courses or requirements to the curriculum, so they chose to use courses that were already developed and being offered through the General Studies curriculum. Individual faculty would teach their regular courses, but certain sections would be limited to 25 of the new students described above. Students would receive full academic credit for the course, since it was a regular course in the curriculum, and it would fulfill a General Studies degree requirement. Within the course various “transitional” aspects (study skills assessment, career planning, engagement in student life, introduction to student support services, etc.) were encouraged, developed, and made available to all, but specifically required of none. The faculty instructors were expected to integrate these aspects as they could and/or as they were appropriate to the course content. Using this model, no new policies, courses, or curricula were required – it was politically and economically free to permit immediate implementation. The same model for the Freshman Seminars exists at Stockton today.
In fall 2003, the lead author was working on a manuscript about transfer students at that time and had an “Aha!” experience – why not try the Freshman Seminar approach with new transfer students? Since Stockton enrolls approximately 1100 new transfer students each fall and another 350 in the spring, the need for such an effort was obvious. Most of these students transfer from the state’s community colleges, but others represent all other higher education environments. Enrollment could be controlled by not making the course available until new transfer students registered. Thus the “transfer seminar” concept and an implementation strategy were created.
Since the transfer seminars are not required (unlike the Freshman Seminars), individual faculty members are simply recruited by asking them if they would like to offer one of their courses as such. They are encouraged to consider this option in an effort to provide more opportunities for new transfer students to engage in their new institution with their true peers – other transfer students. The assignments that attempt to meet the transitional aspects for these new transfer students include an introduction to the Library databases and other resources, a visit to any office on campus, attendance/participation in three different kinds of co-curricular events or activities, and a meeting with their academic advisor. A written and/or oral presentation is required for all assignments noted above. The range of courses offered and faculty teaching transfer seminars spans all but one of the six academic Schools at Stockton, yielding six to nine courses each fall and four to six courses each spring. These offerings accommodate only a little over 20% of all new transfer students each year, but growth is advocated as much as possible. However, identifying faculty to teach the Freshman Seminars must take priority, since these courses are required of all new freshman students. 2