Student Satisfaction with Transfer Process
The University of Montana—Missoula
In order to understand and ameliorate any difficulties students have with transferring to The University of Montana—Missoula, the Provost’s office has gathered data from students matriculating at the university in the spring and fall semesters of 2002 and 2003. The spring 2004 survey is now posted on the web. New transfer students (N = 297) have been asked to complete the survey by March 29, 2004.
Results from these surveys have been consistent and will be summarized below. In addition, copies of the most recent survey instrument will be appended.
The response rate to the 2002 surveys was quite small. During spring semester 2002 only 71 surveys were returned from approximately 400 matriculating transfer students; only 22 of approximately 1100 students responded during the fall semester.
Beginning in the spring semester of 2003, a different strategy for obtaining responses was adopted: All students transferring to UM-M during the semester are mailed a postcard requesting their participation in an on-line transfer survey (attached). In addition, students are promised that five completed surveys will be drawn randomly and that the students who completed these surveys will be awarded a gift certificate for $100 from the UC Bookstore. In the spring 2003 semester, 165 of 455 matriculating transfer students (undergraduates only) completed the on-line survey. In the fall 2003 semester, 106 of 745 matriculating transfer students completed the survey.
Results from 2002
Given the low response rates (18% and 2%) from the 2002 surveys and the accompanying confound of selective bias, initial conclusions reported by the Provost’s office were tentative. Nevertheless, the results indicated that two-thirds of the students reported some problems with transferring, while one-third indicated that they had “no problems at all.” For students transferring from other institutions within Montana (N = 40 students), 55% indicated that they had experienced problems with the transfer process. The biggest problem reported by these in-state students was difficulty getting courses (20% of the students). The other two most frequently mentioned problems were “difficulty transferring general education (18%) and “other” (23%). The responses included in “other” ranged across difficulty with parking to problems with financial aid.
Results from 2003
Refinements in the survey and the on-line administration allowed more specific conclusions. The survey now covers credit transfer, academic advising, and other related transfer issues. The analyses include response frequencies, an examination of the survey variables across groups, qualitative comments associated with the survey, and comparison to prior results. Across the 950 transfer students who matriculated in 2003, 156 (16.5%) expressed some frustration with the transfer process, although three quarters indicated that their general education and major courses transferred to The University of Montana—Missoula. A breakdown of the areas covered follows.
Credit Transfer. Topics covered in the Credit Transfer section of the questionnaire included transfer evaluations, frustrations with the transfer process, use of the university’s web-based transfer guide, and any assistance sought by the student before the transfer to UM.
Overall, most students (62.4% of participants on the survey) report receiving a transfer evaluation of general education classes before selecting courses and only 10% of the respondents reported they did not receive an evaluation before registration. However, 12.5% of all transfer students (a little over half of the respondents) indicated that they did not receive an evaluation of courses pertaining to their major before selecting courses.
Given that about 25% of students responded to the surveys given during the spring and fall of 2003, the actual number of students reporting frustration with the credit transfer process is small. Two-thirds of the respondents (or 16.5% of the total number of transfer students) reported frustrations, although over 75% of the respondents reported that all general education and major courses from their previous educational institution did in fact transfer. An examination of qualitative responses to this topic indicates a general sense of frustration and confusion with the process of transferring. Specifically, confusion about evaluation and frustration with a perceived lack of communication between university departments dominated qualitative responses. Additionally, students with credit totals between 16 and 60 reported significantly more frustrations with transfer than those with 15 credits or less and 61+ credits. Fine arts and education students reported significantly more often problems with major credit transfer. This was also true of out-of-state students.
Few respondents reported using the university’s web-based guide to determine which credits would transfer. Only 19.2% reported doing so. Students with an educational background in business, natural science, and behavioral science reported significantly higher use of the web guide. Many qualitative responses by students indicated that they were unaware of the web guide, but that, had they known of the guide, they would have used it.
Few students who completed the survey reported seeking transfer assistance before leaving their previous educational institution. Only 20.3% of the respondents spoke with an advisor at UM before transferring. Of these, the significant majority were in-state students. Fewer still (15.5%) reported that their advisor at their previous institution advised them about transfer equivalency. Again, as might be expected, the advisors of in-state students spoke with them more about transfer equivalency.
Advising. Questions in the advising section of the survey covered how many students met with an advisor, if advisor made it clear to the student what courses would transfer, and the student’s overall satisfaction level with their advisor.
Almost all students responding to this survey met with an advisor (97.4%). Of these, 78% percent reported a review of their transcript evaluation and/or development of a plan of study. However, the level of understanding gleaned from these meetings varied. While most respondents (53.5%) understood what general education credits transferred, the majority of respondents did not understand what major credits would transfer (53.1% of the respondents; 13% of the total number of transfer students). Approximately 15% of all transfer students did not understand which elective credits would transfer (61.3% of the respondents) and reported their advisor did not help develop a plan of study (62.7% of the respondents). Regardless, the vast majority of respondents (81%) reported to be either satisfied or very satisfied with their advisor. Qualitatively, students tended to report frustrations with their peer advisor, and indicated that they would have much preferred a professor as an advisor. Those who had a professor as an advisor generally had positive things to say about their advising experience, although problems of scheduling affected some students. Out-of-state students reported a greater understanding of credit transfer.
Related Issues. This section of the survey looked issues associated with entering a new institution and moving to a new area. These are: course availability, financial aid difficulties, employment, housing, and childcare. Some students (about 12% of the total number of transfer students, 47.3% of the respondents) reported having difficulty getting courses in the spring semester of 2003, but in the fall of 2003 that percent dropped to about 8% of the total number of transfer students. In an examination of qualitative responses, students indicated that the timing of their registration prevented them from getting the classes they wanted. Most respondents (73.4%) reported that they had no difficulty arranging financial aid, although some qualitative responses expressed frustration with the financial aid office. In-state students reported financial aid problems significantly more often, perhaps because of the higher proportion of transfers from community colleges throughout the state. Most respondents (71.6%) responded in the negative to the survey question, “I can’t find a job.” Based on the survey, there appear to be few problems with housing and childcare. Ninety-one percent of respondents indicated no problems finding housing, and only a single respondent indicated problems finding childcare.
Relationship of Transfer Survey Questions and Orientation. Responses to the transfer survey questions were also examined to determine whether attendance at orientation sessions, and the timing of these, played a role in the ease of transfer. For those students who failed to attend an orientation session, transfer problems were more evident. For example, 10% of those students surveyed in the Fall of 2003 who failed to attend an orientation session reported that they did not understand what courses transferred for elective credits, 29% for what transferred for general education, and only 38% talked to an advisor before selecting courses. In comparison, responses from student who attended orientation indicated that they understood what courses transferred for electives (41%), for general education requirements (55%) and that they talked to an academic advisor before selecting courses (69%). In addition, the timing of attendance at an orientation session also had an effect. For example, those students who attended an orientation session in the preceding spring or early in the summer were more apt to indicate that they knew what courses transferred for general education (67% for spring, 72% for June, 75% for July) than those who attended later sessions (47% for August, 20% for September). These trends are likely to stem from a number of parameters, including self selection and the number of students attending specific orientation sessions.
Conclusions and Future Directions
In general, the majority of students are satisfied with their transfer experience, although improvement in several areas might lead to better outcomes. Areas under discussion are:
1. providing transfer evaluation before students actually enroll for courses in order to provide earlier feedback regarding credit transfer and build a database for course equivalency,
2. advertise web-based transfer guides more broadly and aggressively,
3. take measures to equalize opportunities for adequate transfer advising at orientation sessions (e.g., insure greater numbers of advisors for the higher attendance sessions)
4. increase access to faculty advisors and department-specific information.