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Addressing Transfer Shock: How Community College Transfer Students Develop Peer-to-Peer Social Connections at a Four-Year University


Through in-depth interviews and written reflections, this study investigated how community college transfer students at a large, public, four-year, research university developed social connections with their in-class peers, their perceptions of how these social connections influenced their resilience, and the role of the institution in peer-to-peer social connection making. Research suggested that transfer students who experience a sharp drop in GPA during their first-term at the university, a phenomenon known as transfer shock, were more likely to drop out if the dip was not corrected within the next academic term (Hills, 1965). Transfer students who developed social connections and a sense of belonging to their new institution during their first term were more likely to perform better in their coursework and avoid transfer shock. Current literature on the social integration of community college transfer students focused on formal interventions such as orientations and mentorship programs, or student participation in university extra-curricular activities including events or clubs. This study uncovered how social connections between community college transfer students formed outside of participation in extra-curricular activities in order to address the limitations of this typically commuter population.

This dissertation presented findings based on the personal stories of six male and six female community college transfer students who were commuters between the ages of 19-26, representing both STEM and non-STEM majors. This study found that peer-to-peer social connections formed outside of extra-curricular activities were established primarily in or around the classroom. The participant narratives confirmed social connections to native and transfer student classmates played a positive role in their transition within and to the four-year university. Such social connections provided access to shared academic resources and unique navigational capital which supported participant resilience (academic and emotional persistence over time leading to on-time graduation). The institution was perceived as having facilitated the development of peer-to-peer social connections when academic programs were designed so that students were likely to share multiple classes in the same term and/or when collaborative work was integrated into course curriculum. This dissertation concluded with recommendations for four-year institutions on the ways in which the classroom can serve as an effective and supportive environment for peer-to-peer social connection making.

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