ERIC Identifier: ED261754
Publication Date: 1985-08-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los
Assessing Student Degree Aspirations. ERIC Digest.
Nationwide, over 75 percent of full-time community college freshmen
claim that they plan on earning a baccalaureate or higher degree. However,
follow-up studies at the national level reveal that nine years after enrolling
in a community college, less than 25 percent earn a bachelor's degree (Astin
Why the large discrepancy between the number of community college students
who say they want to earn a bachelor's degree and the actual number who attain
the baccalaureate? A recent survey of students in transfer courses at 22 urban
community colleges indicates that part of the answer to this question lies in
the inadequacy of self-reported degree aspirations. This ERIC Digest reviews the
methodology and findings of this survey and discusses implications.
ASSESSING STUDENT DEGREE ASPIRATIONS AND TRANSFER PREDISPOSITION
During Spring 1984, the Center for the Study of Community Colleges surveyed
2,957 students in randomly selected course sections at 22 colleges participating
in the Ford Foundation's Urban Community Colleges Transfer Opportunities
Program. The course sections involved in the survey were identified as eligible
for transfer credit to a four-year college. Of those students surveyed, 1,750
responded; responses from students who had already earned a bachelor's degree
were removed from the sample, leaving the data from 1,613 students for
Among other items, the survey instrument solicited information on (1) the
highest degree that students plan to attain, (2) their primary reasons for
attending college, (3) student attitudes (i.e., predisposition) toward transfer;
and (4) student transfer behaviors (i.e., the actions taken by students to
prepare for successful transfer). Findings, discussed below, reveal that while a
large percentage of students said they planned to attain a baccalaureate,
smaller proportions demonstrated the attitudes and behaviors that are indicative
of transfer success.
WHAT ARE STUDENT DEGREE ASPIRATIONS AND WHY ARE STUDENTS ENROLLED?
Of the respondents, 74 percent indicated that they planned to attain a
baccalaureate or higher degree. When asked to indicate their primary reason for
attending college, however, only 54 percent indicated transfer to a four-year
college or university. Many (31.9 percent) were attending primarily to gain
occupational skills; 8.3 percent indicated occupational advancement; and 6.6
percent indicated personal interest. Age, attendance status, sex, and number of
credits completed were found to be significantly related to student goals.
Preparing for transfer was more likely to be given as a reason for attending
college by full-time male students who were of traditional college age.
WHAT IS THE PREDISPOSITION OF STUDENTS TOWARD TRANSFER?
The survey instrument included five Likert-type items which asked the student
about the relative importance of transfer:
--Transferring to a four-year college is not that important to me. (Desired
response: strong disagreement or disagreement.)
--Transferring to a four-year college is too far off in the future to worry
about it now. (Desired response: strong disagreement or disagreement.)
--If I don't transfer to a four-year college, I will feel disappointed.
(Desired response: strong disagreement or disagreement.)
--Transfer courses are not very useful because you don't learn any practical
skills (Desired response: strong disagreement or disagreement.)
--For me, getting a job is more important than transferring to a four-year
college (Desired response: strong disagreement or disagreement.)
Depending on the individual responses to the five items, students were given
a score of five or a score of four when they provided one of the two desired
responses, a three for neutral, and a two or one for the undesired response (for
example, for item one, strong disagreement = 5; disagreement = 4; neutral = 3;
agreement = 2; and strong agreement = 1). To determine the cut-off points
delineating high versus low transfer attitudes, it was decided that a student
should score at least 20 to be classified as having high transfer attitudes;
anyone with a score of less than 20 was placed into the low attitude group.
Of the 1,532 students who were included in the analysis, 672 or 44 percent
fell into the high transfer attitude category. While not all of these students
indicated that they aspire to a B.A. or indicated preparation for transfer as
their primary reason for attending college, they were nonetheless included in
the analysis because it was considered important to calculate a measure of the
actual proportion of community college students who have high and low transfer
attitudes. Among students who aspired to a B.A. or higher degree, the proportion
exhibiting high transfer attitudes was 54 percent, ten percentage points higher
than for the sample as a whole.
DO STUDENTS PREPARE FOR SUCCESSFUL TRANSFER?
The survey instrument also assessed student actions in preparation for
--TRANSFER KNOWLEDGE: a composite of three items that asked the student to
indicate the sources used to determine transferability of courses taken in the
community college. The three possible sources of information were: (a)
catalog/course schedule; (b) counselors; (c) making inquiries of a four-year
college. Because the student could check as many choices as applicable, the
highest possible score for this item was 3.
--COURSE TRANSFERABILITY: Students were asked to list the courses they
enrolled in during Spring 1984 and to indicate for each whether they knew if the
course was transferable. This item was scored on the basis of the number of
courses listed. For instance, if a student was taking four courses and she/he
knew the transfer eligibility for all four, his or her score would be a four. In
order not to penalize students who were taking fewer courses, the scores were
--TRANSFER PLANNING: A composite of four items asked students who planned on
transferring if they had (a) requested catalog(s) and application form(s) from
colleges and universities; (b) asked counselor(s) for information about the
colleges' requirements for transfer applicants; (c) visited the colleges; and
(d) completed and submitted transfer applications. The highest possible score on
this item was 4.
--TRANSFER INFORMATION: An item which asked students whether they had sought
information on transfer opportunities from the counseling office frequently,
occasionally, or rarely. The highest possbile score in this item was three.
The cut-off point selected to differentiate high versus low transfer
behaviors was 11; that is, students scoring 11 or higher were classified as
measuring high on transfer behaviors. This cut-off point was determined as
follows: for item one, a student should have scored at least 2 out of 3 possible
points; for item two, a student should have a perfect score (four points); for
item three, the score should be at least a 2 out of a possible 4; and for the
last item, the student should score a 3.
Of 1,542 students who responded to the items in the measure, 192 or 12
percent were classified as having high transfer behaviors. Among students who
aspire to a B.A. or higher degree, 16 percent exhibited high transfer behaviors.
WHICH STUDENTS WERE MOST LIKELY TO DISPLAY HIGH TRANSFER ATTITUDES AND
The students who fell into the high transfer attitudes and high transfer
behavior categories clearly show the highest predisposition to transfer. An
analysis of characterisitics of these students indicates that number of credits
earned, attendance status, and age appear to be related to changes in transfer
attitudes and behaviors. Students with high transfer attitudes and behaviors are
concentrated among those who have completed 45 to 59 units, who are attending
full-time, and who are of traditional college age. Significantly, of those
students who indicated that they wanted to attain a Bachelor's degree or a
graduate degree, only 48.4 percent and 69.2 percent (respectively) demonstrated
high transfer attitudes; only 12.8 percent and 22.7 percent demonstrated high
As the above findings indicate, the self-reported degree aspirations of
community college students may not always be good discriminators of transfer
potential. Though students may say they plan on earning a B.A. or higher degree,
many give reasons other than transfer for having enrolled in college. Also, many
baccalaureate aspirants do not demonstrate attitudes and behaviors helpful to
transfer success. Consequently, community colleges concerned with the
identification of potential transfer students at the point of entry need to
collect other data besides planned degree attainment.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Cohen, A. M., F. B. Brawer, and E. M. Bensimon. TRANSFER EDUCATION IN
AMERICAN COMMUNITY COLLEGES. Los Angeles, CA: Center for the Study of Community