Date of Award

Spring 2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Higher Education

Committee Director

Molly H. Duggan

Committee Member

J. Worth Pickering

Committee Member

Martha Sharpe


College students increasingly are transferring among institutions of higher education in pursuit of their educational goals. The existing research on transfer students, however, does not adequately explore the unique characteristics of this heterogeneous population. The literature on transfer students suggests that transfer students are at-risk for experiencing academic difficulty and attrition. Research indicates that degree attainment is associated with the success of the student and their parents. Furthermore, attrition negatively impacts higher education finances, so colleges and universities that focus on helping students be successful and persist to graduation maintain revenue streams.

Many studies have focused on cognitive measures of academic performance and persistence; however, research has shown that cognitive measures alone are not the best predictors of academic performance and persistence (Duggan & Pickering, 2008; Pickering, Calliotte, & McAuliffe, 1992). Researchers have explored various noncognitive and cognitive measures of academic performance and persistence, but the literature has not controlled for the unique characteristics of the transfer student population. Research needs to focus on examining transfer students as subpopulations with common characteristics. The purpose of this research was to analyze noncognitive, cognitive, and demographic variables to determine if incorporating the transfer history of students would result in better predictions of academic performance and persistence.

The population examined in this study included first-time transfer students who most resemble the traditional college student characteristics which excluded distance learners, international students, military students, and students over the age of 29. Transfer students were divided into six subpopulations: first-year vertical transfers (n = 143), sophomore vertical transfers (n = 469), upper-division vertical transfer ( n = 554), first-year horizontal transfers (n = 166), sophomore horizontal transfers (n = 306), and upper-division horizontal transfers (n = 77). Logistical regressions were used to answer four research questions.

Results of the analysis revealed that a noncognitive index (TSS Index) based on student attitudes, behaviors, and experiences, was a significant predictor of academic difficulty for each of the subpopulations of transfer students. First semester cumulative GPA at the target institution was predictive of attrition for each subpopulation of transfer students. The findings also revealed that the other predictors vary in significance among the subpopulations which supports the need for additional research on the uniqueness of transfer students.

Findings from this study justify the need for additional research on transfer students that further examine the characteristics of unique subpopulations of these students. College administrators in areas of student services and enrollment management can use the results to gain a better understanding of the transfer student population and identify and develop resources to assist these students with their academic endeavors.


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