Commissioned by the California State University's Chancellor's Office, this study looks at transfer students and suggests key areas for reform.
Background and Purpose
The Alliance for Minority Participation program is a nationally-based effort designed to support underrepresented minority students enrolled in science, engineering, and mathematics programs at four-year colleges and universities. The primary goal of the Alliance for Minority Participation program is to increase the number of minority students graduating in a science, engineering, or mathematics (SEM) major. While an increasing number of minority students have enrolled in SEM programs in this decade, not all of these students are completing their degree in a timely way (see, e.g., ). Indeed, anecdotal comments from mathematics, science, and engineering departments indicate that it seems that a large number of students either seem to "hang around" a long time, or are behind schedule in their programs (e.g., senior enrolled in lower-division mathematics courses). Concern about what appears to be a bottleneck, or "bulge," for many minority seniors enrolled in SEM programs prompted the Chancellor's Office of the California State University (CSU) to commission a study relative to this issue. Thus, the purpose of this study was to identify possible factors affecting the completion of degrees in mathematics-based disciplines and how departments and institutions might help to streamline the path to graduation for their students.
The research was limited to students with senior status, and included two components: transcript analyses and student interviews. Transcript analyses of student records were done at six participating CSU campuses by local administrative offices and academic departments, gathering information on three criteria:
Follow-up interviews, by phone or writing, or in person, were used to help understand student perceptions of their own experiences.
The sample for transcript analysis was comprised of 813 students currently enrolled as seniors at one of six of the 22 campuses of the California State University. About three-fourths (74%) of these were transfer students from a community college coming in as third-year students. More than half of the students were majoring in engineering (55%) or the natural or physical sciences (41%), with about 4% majoring in mathematics.
Only one-half (52%) of the students had completed their general education requirements, while fewer than that (40%) had completed the upper division requirements in their major. Moreover, nearly half (45%) of these SEM students had not yet completed their mathematics requirement (first and/or second year calculus) even though the students were seniors. While many students owned more than one of these three deficits, relatively few seniors were qualified to take senior-level courses in their major, that is, were deficit-free. Typically, a student was at least two semesters from having completed all prerequisites for senior-level work, and in some cases, was essentially a freshman in the major.
There were notable differences in the trajectories towards successful completion of graduation requirements between transfer and non-transfer students. Virtually all of the transfer students had at least one of the three deficits listed above. By comparison, non-transfer students who had attended the CSU as freshmen were much more timely in their completion of courses, with more than half of them having completed all three requirements by the end of the junior year. Thus, students in mathematics-based majors who began their careers as freshmen in the CSU had a reasonable expectation of graduating in a timely way (for this study, within 6 years for engineering majors, and within 5 years for math and science majors). By comparison, SEM students who had transferred seemed to have no chance to finish on time. Graduation checks showed that while non-transfer students comprised only one-fourth of the sample, these students comprised more than 90% of the minority graduates in SEM majors. Moreover, this trend was true for all disciplines, including mathematics.
While the data here suggest that transferability (or lack of) is the real culprit, problems associated with changing schools are more severely felt by the minority community. Recall that three fourths of the SEM minority students were transfer students, compared with typical ratios of around 30-40% for non-minority students. Since the non-transfer students are more timely to graduation than are transfer students, it becomes a minority issue.
Follow-up interviews seemed to confirm that transferring creates problems, both obvious and subtle. Three hundred forty students were interviewed by telephone, in person, or in writing. The interviews were not sympathetic, but informational, in nature. While the interview format and questions asked varied somewhat by campus, student responses centered on the following issues:
While financial and personal issues were mentioned by virtually all students as a factor affecting their academic progress, transfer students raised the other four issues as being stumbling blocks much more frequently (more than 3:1) than did non-transfer students. Typically, transfer students had not yet completed their required mathematics courses, and so had to accommodate these courses in their schedules. Once in the courses, they failed at a rate more than double that of their non-transfer counterparts. Some students reported that they had been advised to take unnecessary courses, but had not been advised to take courses that were really needed. Transfer students found that the academic level and expectation were much higher than they had experienced at the community college, and had often felt "on the outside" compared to students who had been in the department for all four years. Specifically, transfer students were much less likely to be involved with formative undergraduate activities such as conducting student-faculty research, attending departmental functions, or participating in social gatherings.
Use of Findings
This study showed the presence of a significant bottleneck for many California State University minority senior students currently enrolled in mathematics-based programs. The problems seemed to be triggered by issues relating to transferring from another institution, typically a community college. To what extent can the university take responsibility for these problems, or create changes that are genuinely effective? In California, the "Senior Bulge" study did result in helping to convince the Chancellor's office to initiate voluntary programs for interested campuses. Each campus was invited to devise a plan to address the issues associated with untimely graduation, with funding available (between $20-45 K) to help implement the plan. While each participating campus (12 of the 22 CSU campuses are now involved) customized its plan, there were at least three common elements shared by all:
1. "Catch" transfer students early. It is easy to assume that since transfer students have already attended college, they do not need guidance from the university. This study found that transfer students are an at-risk group in terms of adjusting to the academic rigors of a university, enrolling in the right classes, and forming early connections to their academic department. Academic departments identifying, contacting, and meeting with transfer students early in their university career may eliminate some of the problems later as seniors. (As Uri Treisman once remarked, "Care for your own wounded.")
2. Provide accurate academic advising within the department. Interview data showed that most students, especially transfer students, felt varying degrees of isolation in their quest to gather accurate information about specific requirements and prerequisites, scheduling, and academic support programs and services. Having the academic department individually advise students throughout their enrollment at the university may be extremely helpful in streamlining their paths to graduation.
3. Provide effective academic support for key courses. Providing (and perhaps requiring participation in) academic support, such as Treisman  workshop-style groups, together with scheduling key classes to accommodate student needs, may be a significant way that the department can not only facilitate the success of its students but increase student involvement as well.
Studies by Treisman , Bonsangue [2, 3], and Bonsangue and Drew  have suggested that the academic department is the key element in facilitating changes that will make a real difference for students. Academic departments may be the key link in addressing each of the specific needs identified above, especially in providing academic advising and in creative scheduling to accommodate "off-semester" transfer students. Institutions whose mathematics courses are supported by academic programs such as the Academic Excellence Workshop Program have reported significantly higher rates of on-time course completion and subsequent graduation than they observed before instigating such programs [4, 5, 8]. While the majority of students in this study were not necessarily mathematics majors, the successful and timely completion of mathematics courses seemed to play a crucial role both in the students' time to graduation as well as in their attitudes about school [1, 7].
The programs described to address the Senior Bulge phenomenon are works in progress, with most still in their first or second semester at the time of this writing. Each program has its own character, with most programs run by an SEM faculty member and a person working in student support department. Interested persons should feel free to contact me to discuss gains (as well as mistakes) that we have made.
 Academic Excellence Workshops. A handbook for AcademicExcellence Workshops, Minority Engineering Program and Science Educational Enhancement Services, Pomona, CA, 1992.
 Bonsangue, M.The effects of calculus workshop groups on minority achievement and persistence in mathematics, science, and engineering, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Claremont, CA, 1992.
 Bonsangue, M. "An efficacy study of the calculus workshop model," CBMS Issues in Collegiate Mathematics Education, 4, American Mathematical Society, Providence, RI, 1994, pp. 117-137.
 Bonsangue, M., and Drew, D. "Mathematics: Opening the gatesIncreasing minority students' success in calculus," in Gainen, J. and Willemsen, E., eds., Fostering Student Success in Quantitative Gateway Courses, Jossey-Bass, New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Number 61, San Francisco, 1995, pp. 23-33.
 Fullilove, R.E., & Treisman, P.U. "Mathematics achievement among African American undergraduates at the University of California, Berkeley: An evaluation of the mathematics workshop program," Journal of Negro Education, 59 (3), 1990, pp. 463-478.
 Science (entire issue). "Minorities in science: The pipeline problem," 258, November 13, 1992.
 Selvin, P. "Math education: Multiplying the meager numbers," Science, 258, 1992, pp. 1200-1201.
 Treisman, P.U. A study of the mathematics
performance of black students at the University of
California, Berkeley, unpublished doctoral dissertation,
Berkeley, CA, 1985.