Dissertation: Rebecca Jane Berner

Cohort 3, published 2012


Transfer Shock and the Experience of Community College Students Transitioning to California State University, Chico: An Exploratory Study


This qualitative phenomenological study examines transfer shock and the experience of community college students as they transitioned to California State University, Chico. Interviews were conducted with 13 community college transfer students who experienced a difficult transition to the four year institution as evidenced by the significant first semester drop in grade point average, known as transfer shock. The five research questions were:

  1. How do students characterize their transition experience?
  2. What are transfer students’ expectations around transfer?
  3. What differences do transfer students report between the two and four year institutions?
  4. What helps and hindrances to their transition do students report?
  5. What additional types of support might be offered by the institution to aid their transition experience?

The author utilized Schlossberg’s Transition Theory (1995) as a lens to explore the transition experiences of students during their first semester at the new institution. Schlossberg posits that situation, self, supports and strategies (the 4 S’s) impact an individual’s ability to transition successfully.

The researcher found that students characterized their transition in negative and positive terms. Student’s expectations were largely inaccurate in that they expected their experience at the four year institution to be very similar to their community college experience. Instead, they discovered many differences between institutions in terms of the academic and social environments and campus culture. Overall, the findings revealed that the academic transition was much more difficult for students than the social transition. For example, students found classes at the four year institution larger and more demanding with less instructor interaction. In regards to the social transition, study participants reported that Chico State provided a welcoming social environment in which it was easy to make friends. They also found that the campus culture was more positive and goal-oriented at the four year level than at the community college. Overall, study participants reported many more hindrances than helps to their transition experience. In particular, transfer students who lived away from home for the first time experienced difficulties with time management and basic life skills such as cooking and cleaning.

One of the greatest hindrances to many transfer students in their transition was their reluctance to seek help. Challenges reported at the institutional level included: difficulties with the admission process, obstacles to obtaining academic advising and lack of information about academic and probation policies. Using Schlossberg’s Transition Theory as a lens to assess students’ coping strategies revealed that students’ assessment of their situation, as well their unwillingness to reach out for support contributed to their transition difficulties. This study concludes with policy and future research recommendations, as well as an emerging theoretical framework of transfer socialization. Institutions must consider the entire transfer process beginning at the community college and extending through the first semester at the new institution. Therefore, in order to help students avoid transfer shock, interventions must be staged at key points along the transfer transition continuum.

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