Taking on the transfer

Transitioning from a small community college to a large university can be an overwhelming and frightening experience for many students. To help smooth this transition, PSU will lead a national research project aimed at improving the success of transfer students.


The Lumina Foundation for Education, an Indiana-based private foundation that specializes in helping minority and low-income students, invested $775,000 this past summer to aid in research at Portland State.


“We are looking to find how community colleges and universities can work together to make it easier to transfer,” according to Kathi Ketcheson, director of the office of institutional research and planning at PSU and a primary player in the research.


Community college students tend to face more obstacles that can get in the way of a successful education than traditional four-year college students, according to research conducted by the Community College Research Center. Many community college students attend part time, work full time and have families to support.


Portland State will work directly with Mt. Hood Community College in researching the best ways to make the transition between community college and the university smoothest for all students, particularly minority and low-income students.


Portland State hopes the research will result in changes to policy and practice that will enable more transfer students to receive a four-year degree, said Mary Kinnick, a retired professor from PSU who will serve as a consultant to the project.


Transferring students can also suffer from cultural and academic shock, said Joan Jagodnik, assistant director of community college relations. After being in a community college, they may sign up for classes that they are not prepared for or take more classes than they can reasonably handle.


“A lot of students will do that because they want to get done as quickly as possible, and that’s not always the best thing to do,” she said.


Transfer students make up the largest percentage of the student body at PSU. Common complaints from community college transfers include larger class sizes and services that seem inaccessible.


“Having lots of people makes it hard to get access to places like the tutoring center and counselors,” said James Mayik, a transfer from Portland Community College and a first year student at PSU. Originally from Sudan, Mayik, said he appreciates his experience at PCC because it prepared him for a college experience.


National data shows that 21 percent of students who plan to transfer from community college to a university do make the transition, and that 40 percent of that number complete a degree.


Over the 2004-05 school year, 1,888 students transferred to Portland State from Oregon community colleges. Even though many transfer students do drop out over the course of their college career, the retention rate of transfer students is higher than that of newly admitted high school students, Ketcheson said.


At PSU, 74.5 percent of students who transferred as sophomores and juniors in fall of 2002 return in fall of 2003, while 43.2 percent came back for fall of 2004. However, Lina Lu of the office of research and planning said that the second year retention rate may be significantly smaller because students have graduated.


PSU will work on the research project directly with Mt. Hood Community College, carrying on the work done by Dan Walleri, a former director of research and planning at Mt. Hood who passed away this past summer.


Two other states will collaborate with PSU in this research. The University of South Florida, working with Hillsborough Community College, will be the first to join PSU, when they visit in November to begin planning on the research, according to Ketcheson.


A school in Arizona, yet to be decided, will join these two in the research.


Although they have not begun any of the research yet, Ketcheson believes that it will primarily consist of looking into the best policies and practices between the universities and community colleges to benefit low income and minority students. They will study trends in data that the three universities have collected as a primary source.


The three schools will meet at least twice a year, the first meeting taking place in Portland in November, then continuing in Florida the next year, and Arizona the year after. They will also gather at the annual national conference on transfer students and meet any additional time necessary, Ketcheson said.