Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


Riding Out the Waves: Community College Transfers Graduating with Bachelor's Degrees

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Maureen E. Wilson (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Robert DeBard (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Peterann Siehl (Committee Member)


The purpose of this study was to explore factors that influenced the completion of a bachelor's degree by community college transfer students. A qualitative methodology was used to capture the essence of the transfer student experience. One-on-one interviews were conducted with thirteen Bowling Green State University seniors who transferred to the university from a community college. Data included interview transcripts, academic transcripts, and observations noted in a research log. Themes were identified from data analysis. Measures of credibility and authenticity for qualitative research design were incorporated and attained in this study.

Data analysis provided results at two levels: a) thick description of the transfer student experience and b) explanation of why these students persisted. Reasons why participants chose to attend a community college included low cost, convenient location, feeling unprepared to attend a university, and having unclear goals. Several themes emerged from the data that pertained to their experiences of their journey to the baccalaureate including receiving quality teaching at both the community college and BGSU, having a fairly smooth transfer process, experiencing financial difficulties, feeling out of place at both the community college and BGSU, and balancing school and work responsibilities. What helped the students persist to graduation primarily included psychological factors, such as high educational aspirations and strong motivation, and social factors, such as supportive relationships.

From the results, implications for practice, policy, and research were discussed. Leading implications from this study included encouraging students to set high goals, strengthening inter-institutional communication regarding transfer credits, stabilizing financial aid, and providing formal social networking opportunities for transfer students. More research should be conducted to examine the transfer experience of those who drop out, students of color, first-generation students, and faculty/staff who closely interact with transfer students. Further research should also consider longitudinal studies and investigate cultural and environmental factors that may influence degree attainment of transfer students. Overall, this study provided a better understanding of transfer student success and offered further support that the community college can serve as a gateway to the baccalaureate.