A national study has found that a gap exists between the experiences of transfers from four-year universities and those from community colleges. But USC’s approach to the transfer process has left only a small discrepancy between each type of transfers, according to many students.
The National Survey of Student Engagement, which includes students from both public and private colleges and universities nationwide, found that transfers from four-year institutions were more likely to participate in “high impact” activities, such as studying abroad and researching with a professor, than transfers from community colleges.
The study, commonly referred to as the “Nessie,” compared the experiences of “vertical” transfers, who are from community colleges, with those of “horizontal” transfers from four-year institutions. The study aimed to find out as much as possible about campus life, beyond just quantitative data.
“We want to change the nature of the conversation about college quality to focus on teaching and learning,” said Alexander McCormick, director of the survey and a professor at Indiana University School of Education’s Educational Leadership and Policy Studies department. “The quality discourse is really about US rankings, and about resources, and doesn’t tell you about what’s going on, on campus.”
But to understand how students are affected at schools like USC, some feel the study should factor in socioeconomic status, and say that is an important determinant of what kinds of activities a student will participate in.
“For a university like USC, the horizontal transfers are likely to be affluent,” said Alicia Dowd,
co-director of the USC Center for Urban Education.
This could have some effect on the results, Dowd said, since affluent students are more likely to study abroad and engage in similar activities that require extra expenses.
“The Nessie is really measuring only really small differences in behavior … They don’t tell us anything about the value of transfer as a whole,” Dowd said.
To help transfer students acclimate to USC, the school offers a separate orientation session for transfer students as well as programs that help specific groups of transfers.
“The transfer orientation spends a good deal of time making sure that [transfer students] understand what they’ve been credited for,” said Tom Studdert, director of Orientation Programs at USC. “Also, at transfer orientation, we spend a little more time understanding the culture of student involvement at USC … [and] how it’s different from their previous institution.”
In addition to the separate orientation, USC’s SCholars program, funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, seeks out potential transfer students at local community colleges who are at a socioeconomic disadvantage, and tries to acclimate them to the USC campus before they apply. If they are accepted into the program, USC ensures that they find out about available opportunities on campus, said Kenechukwu Mmeje, the program’s director.
“Our community college students don’t know about these opportunities, and haven’t been introduced to them in a conventional way,” Mmeje said. “We have students participate in fellowships and scholarships, and it’s a result of our deliberate effort to expose students to those opportunities.”
Still, the SCholars program reaches out to only a limited number of students, and many transfers, from both two-year and four-year schools, feel USC should offer more programs to help them find out about resources available on campus.
Even so, many transfer students said they do not feel there is a large discrepancy in campus participation between transferring from a four-year university versus a community college.
“That’s not the case with me, and I’m a community college transfer,” said Kyle Young, an undeclared sophomore who transferred from Moorpark College. “I could definitely see that being true for other people. At a [junior college], it’s a lot less social. You don’t get to be part of your school spirit.”
Instead, many students from both two- and four-year schools say the real discrepancy in experiences is between transfer students and four-year students in general.
“I don’t feel like I know enough about the groups I can get involved with on campus, so that’s holding me back from participating in more organizations,” said Leher Pathak, a sophomore majoring in communication, who transferred from Loyola Marymount University.
Melanie Irinco, a sophomore majoring in public policy, planning and management who transferred from Los Angeles Valley College, also said she hadn’t been exposed to programs helping transfer students.
“I’m sure [the existing programs] are effective, but I would hope there would be more programs,” Irinco said. “Also, I wish they were easier to have access to or even just hearing about them would be nice.”
Whether they come from two- or four-year colleges, Dowd said, universities should make an extra effort to appreciate and assist transfer students to help them fit in on campus.
“USC has the largest number of transfers of any private university,” Dowd said. “We don’t celebrate that, and we should.”