Counseling Center

University of Maryland

College Park, MD

 

Transfer student hassles:

Investigation and remediation

 

 

Alice A. Mitchell

William E. Sedlacek

 

Research Report #11-94

 

 

Computer time was provided by the Computer Science Center, University of Maryland at College Park. The data discussed were gathered in cooperation with the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Dr. Katherine Pedro Beardsley, Assistant Dean.


 

COUNSELING CENTER

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND

 

Transfer student hassles:

Investigation and remediation

 

Alice A. Mitchell and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report #11-94

 

Summary

 

The college experience is not without strain for most students. Transfer students may experience particular discomfort in the process of migrating from one institution to another.

 

As part of an ongoing program evaluation, the academic dean of the university's social science college wished to learn more about the academic service experiences of students within that unit. Junior students were selected because they could be surveyed during one academic year and appropriate service changes could be made before the all-important senior year. The responses of native and transfer students were compared throughout the investigation. The hassles of junior native and transfer students enrolled in two majors, government and criminal justice were examined.

 

Transfer and native students showed significant differences on college advising questions. The three highest hassles for transfer students were (1) determining which advisor is appropriate for particular questions, (2) receiving adequate information about sources of scholarships, and (3) learning which courses will count toward requirements. The three lowest hassles reported by transfer students were (1) getting information about appropriate procedures for applying for graduation, (2) finding out the procedure to change one's major, and (3) getting unofficial copies of one's transcript.

 

Unique concerns of the transfer population were compared with reported hassles. A comprehensive institutional response was suggested.


 

Introduction

 

The college experience is not without strain for most students. Students in recent years report higher levels of stress than their predecessors (Koplik & Devito, 1986; Mayes & McConatha, 1982). Transfer students may experience particular discomfort in the process of migrating from one institution to another. Because negative stress may hinder transfer student outcomes, a better understanding of stress can assist university administrators in improving the undergraduate experience. Transfer Students

Transfer students are a unique clientele in higher education. The movement from two to four-year institutions increasingly serves as an pipeline for students from underrepresented racial and socio-economic groups (Carter & Wilson, 1994).

 

Various phases in the transfer process have been examined, from matriculation, to expectations about the receiving institution, to achievement once there, through retention, and ultimately to graduation. In matriculation, parental encouragement, having a mother with high educational aspirations, and having high occupational goals increased the probability of transferring from a two-year to a four-year college (Velez & Javalgi, 1987).

 

Particular emphasis might be placed on strategies to increase the transfer rate for students of color (Herndon & Leon, 1986). For example, Native American student representation in


 

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higher education, which continues to be minimal, might well be improved by improved transfer rates from tribal colleges, many of which are community colleges on the reservation (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1989).

 

Expectations about the receiving institution can play an important role in the transfer transition. Incongruence can exist between the expectations of entering junior college transfer students and the environment perceived by native (already enrolled) students.

 

These expectations may be a function of "newness" rather than of transfer. A later study by Zultowski and Catron (1976) showed that incoming freshmen and transfer students had similar expectations of the college environment. Expectations formed before the end of the first semester at a new institution were related to actual performance at the end of the first year (Holahan, Curran, & Kelley, 1982). Other contributions to expectations included perceptions of the demands of the university (Holahan, et al., 1982), grades at last college, grades expected at the university, and type of previous college (Holahan & Kelley, 1978).

 

Miville and Sedlacek (in press) found a conflicting pattern of similarity and dissimilarity between freshmen and transfer students. Among the areas of difference were transfer students' significantly higher interest in counseling for both educational/vocational and emotional/social concerns.

 

Once enrolled, transfer students may achieve academically at


3

 

lower levels than native students (Durio, Helmick, & Slover, 1982) although there may not be significant differences in degree completion rates (Holahan, Green, & Kelley; 1983). Persistence of transfer students was related to their intent to return, academic performance, academic satisfaction, academic integration, and perceptions of the practical value of the academic program (Johnson, 1987).

 

Hassles Research

 

Stress research has moved from critical life events to a focus on daily annoyances. Holmes and Rahe (1967) examined critical life events, measuring them through the Social Readjustment Rating Scale.

This conceptualization came under criticism for its inability to accommodate the individually-determined salience of each event (Rabkin & Struening, 1976). This "your stress is not my stress" criticism spurred revisions in the model.

 

Stress research then moved from life events to daily "hassles", defined as "familiar daily stresses... often taken for granted because they seem relatively unimportant compared with major life events." (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p. 311). The authors argued that individual appraisal defined the salience and severity of the event.

 

Appraisal-informed hassles research of recent years added "uplifts" as an implied counterbalance (Kanner, Coyne, Schaefer, & Lazarus, 1981). Another recent conceptual addition to hassles research was centrality, the identification of those hassles or


 

4

categories of hassles which reflect important ongoing themes in a person's life (Gruen, Folkman, & Lazarus, 1988).

 

Contemporary hassles research then, focuses on (1) proximal, rather than distal measures of stress (Rowlinson & Felner, 1988), (2) participant-determined severity or centrality of the source of stress, and (3) uplifts as a potential counterbalance.

 

Stress/Hassles Measures

 

Stress assessments appear to measure one of two areas: (1) life events or (2) daily annoyances. The Life Events survey (LES, Sarason, Johnson, & Siegel, 1978) was based on the life events research of Holmes and Rahe (1967). The Lazarus research led to the Hassles Scale (HS), and later, the Brief College Student Hassles Scale (BCSHS; Blankstein, Flett, & Koledin, 1991). All instruments came under criticism.

HS criticism (Dohrenwend, Dohrenwend, Dodson, & Shrout, 1984) alleged confounding between frequency and intensity. LES suffered from the same weakness as the Holmes and Rahe (1967) measure, that is, use of a priority/severity ratings.

 

The BCSHS was a refinement of the HS. Items on the BCSHS reflected hassles experienced by college students (academic, social, and financial concerns), rather than the hassles (with spouse, job security) described on the HS. While the instrument was certainly well-tailored to its college population and psychometrically acceptable, the present study investigated academic hassles within a particular college of the university. The experience and insights of previous authors were used to


 

5

 

develop a locally-germane survey instrument.

 

Method

 

The research was conducted at a large, public university in the Middle Atlantic region. The institution is predominantly White, with undergraduates comprising approximately 74% of enrolled students.

As part of an ongoing program evaluation, the academic dean of the university's social sciences college wished to learn more about the academic service experiences of students within that unit. Junior students were selected because they could be surveyed during one academic year and appropriate service changes could be made before the all-important senior year.

 

A large proportion of the students at the university were transfer students. The responses of native and transfer students were compared throughout the investigation. The hassles of junior native and transfer students enrolled in two majors, government and criminal justice were examined. Instrument

Focus groups of students identified several hassles encountered by students. Similar to those on the BCSHS, these included difficulties with academic advising, academic records and registration, finances, and departmental concerns. With these broad areas in mind, a preliminary draft instrument was developed and reviewed by administrative and student staff. Their evaluation informed revision of the survey instrument.


 

6

 

Survey

 

The resulting survey included 31 five-point Likert scale evaluation items, detailed in Table One. A short demographic section sought information concerning the participant's gender, major, race, and status on entry (freshman, transfer). Survey questions sought evaluative responses in four categories: (1) college advising [14 items], (2) registration [7 items], (3) finances [2 items], and (4) departmental advising [8 items].

 

 

Insert Table 1 about here

 

 

The survey was mailed to all junior students majoring in criminal justice or government and politics (N = 584). Mail and telephone followup resulted in a return of 342 useable surveys (58%) .

 

Data analysis

 

A reliability analysis of survey responses yielded an overall alpha of .91. Alphas for sections of the survey were: (1) college advising, .87; (2) registration, .82, (3) finances, .58 and (4) department advising, .81.

Responses were summed for each section to yield four scores. Mean responses per section were compared between freshmen and transfer students. Separate T-tests were run for each of the four subsections of the survey. In each instance, responses from native and transfer students were compared and significance evaluated after a Bonferroni correction to the alpha (.05 divided


 

 

7

 

by 4 = .0125). Responses are summarized in Table Two.

 

Insert Table 2 about here

 

 

An analysis of responses concerning advising showed significant differences in the hassles experienced by freshmen and transfer students (F = 1.69, alpha < .05), with transfer students more troubled by advising difficulties at the college level. Supporting Miville and Sedlacek's (in press) finding, transfer students were not always different from freshmen. In each of the remaining three categories, registration, finances, and department advising, the responses of freshmen and transfer students were not significantly different.

Examination of response means in Table Three showed that the three highest hassles for transfer students were (1) determining which advisor is appropriate for particular questions [mean = 2.95, s.d. = 1.81; 8% indicated that the question did not apply to them], (2) receiving adequate information about sources of scholarships [mean = 2.86, s.d. = 1.885; 16% 'does not apply'], and (3) learning which courses will count toward requirements [mean = 2.715, s.d. = 1.50; .6% 'does not apply']. Transfer students must be vigilant about the transfer of credits earned elsewhere while continuing progress toward degree completion. This concern may be reflected in locating the appropriate person who can most accurately advise the student on courses which will continue that progress. Concern about scholarship information


 

 

8

 

may follow from the pipeline of under-represented socio-economic groups from two to four-year institutions.

The three lowest hassles reported by transfer students were (1) getting information about appropriate procedures for applying for graduation [mean = 1.29, s.d. = 1.58; 46% of students indicated that the question did not apply to them], (2) finding out the procedure to change one's major [mean = 1.57, s.d. _ 1.66, 36% of students indicated 'does not apply'], and (3) getting unofficial copies of one's transcript [mean = 1.52, s.d. = 1.35; 15% 'does not apply']. All students in this study were of junior status, and thus were some distance from graduation. Having successfully completed the administrative aspects of transferring into the institution, they may have less need to change their major or to receive additional copies of their transcript.

 

insert Table 3 about here

 

Discussion

 

Transfer and native students showed significant differences on college advising questions. This may point toward both the greater complexity of transfer student needs in college advising and their higher expectations of service providers at this institutional level.

 

Transfer students bring with them a greater degree of academic diversity in preparatory courses and curricula. In


 

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addition, fulltime jobs and family responsibilities can more frequently occupy the time of a transfer student than that of a native student, offering more competition for their time from outside the university (Miville & Sedlacek, in press). Thus greater academic complexity, coupled with less time in which to resolve administrative disparities can leave transfer students frustrated when their expectations of smooth institutional change are thwarted. Greater responsiveness to students as consumers may be warranted.

 

The hassles survey included a closing question seeking general comments about academic hassles that the student might have encountered. These comments were transcribed verbatim and anonymously, then shared with the assistant dean of the college in question. Shortly thereafter, a new series of training sessions were instituted on academic advising as well as other steps to further improve service to students. This type of responsiveness may increase retention of transfer students in the years to come.

 

The needs of transfer students might be addressed not only in the departments and colleges but also on a comprehensive institutional level, much like that advocated for commuter students by Jacoby (1989). Miville and Sedlacek (in press) suggest alternate forms of intervention such as mail or telephone, as well as weekend scheduling of events to meet the needs of transfer students. With the advent of electronic communication and distance learning technologies, some of the


 

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more routine administrative needs of transfer student may be more quickly serviced remotely.

 

The stress of being a transfer student may be attributed in part to daily administrative hassles. By their complexity and diversity, transfer students may be more susceptible to these difficulties. By their experience and consumer-oriented wariness, transfer students may have higher expectations of the receiving institution than do native students. A comprehensive institutional response to transfer students may bring with it a higher level of service for all students.


 

References

 

Blankstein, K. R. , Flett, G. L., & Koledin, S. (1991). The Brief College Student Hassles Scale: Development, validation, and relation with pessimism. Journal of College Student Development, 32(3), 258-264.

 

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. (1989). Tribal colleges: Shaping the future of Native America. Princeton, NJ: Author.

 

Carter, D. J. & Wilson, R. (1994). Twelfth annual status report 1993: Minorities in higher education Washington, DC: American Council on Education.

 

Dohrenwend, B. S., Dohrenwend, B. P., Dodson, M., & Shrout, P. W. (1984). Symptoms, hassles, social supports and life events: The problem of confounded measures. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 93, 222-230.

 

Durio, H. F., Helmick, C. K, & Slover, J. T. (1982) A comparison of aptitude and achievement between transfer engineering students and students entering engineering as freshmen at a major university. Education Research Quarterly, 7(2), 4250.

 

Gruen, R. J., Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R. S. (1988). Centrality and individual differences in the meaning of daily hassles. Journal of Personality, 56(4), 743-762.

 

Herndon, S., & Leon, D. (1986). Strategies to improve the transfer rate of minority students. Journal of College Student Personnel, 27(4), 366-367.


 

Holahan, C. K., Curran, L. T., & Kelley, H. P. (1982). The formation of student performance expectancies: The relationship of student perceptions and social comparisons. Journal of College Student Personnel, 23(6), 497-502.

 

Holahan, C. K., Green, J. L., & Kelley, H. P. (1983). A 6-year longitudinal analysis of transfer student performance and retention. Journal of College Student Personnel, 24(4), 305310.

 

Holahan, C. K, & Kelley, H. P. (1978). The relationship of characteristics of entering transfer students and their previous colleges to their attitudes and performance. Educational Research Quarterly, 3(1), 58-66.

 

Holmes, T. H. & Rahe, R. H.. (1967). The social readjustment rating scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11, 213218.

 

Jacoby, B. (1993). The student-as-commuter: Developing a comprehensive institutional response. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 7. Washington, D.C.: School of Education and Human Development, The George Washington University.

 

Johnson, H. T. (1987). Academic factors that affect transfer student persistence. Journal of College Student Personnel, 28(4), 323-329.


 

Kanner, A. D., Coyne, J. C., Schaefer, C., & Lazarus, R. S. (1981). Comparison of two modes of stress measurement: Daily hassles and uplifts versus major life events. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 4(1), 1-38.

 

Koplik, E., K. & Devito, A. J. (1986). Problems of freshmen: Comparison of classes of 1976 and 1986. Journal of College Student Personnel, 27, 124-131.

 

Lazarus, R. S. & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.

 

Mayes, A. N. & McConatha, J. (1982). Surveying students needs: A means of evaluating student services. Journal of College Student Personnel, 23, 473-476.

 

Miville, M. L. & Sedlacek, W. E. (in press). Transfer students and freshmen: Similarities and differences. NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators) Journal.

 

Rabkin, J. G. & Struening, E. L. (1976). Life events, stress, and illness. Science, 194, 1013-1020.

 

Rowlinson, R. T. & Felner, R. D. (1988). Major life events, hassles, and adaptation in adolescence: Confounding in the conceptualization and measurement of life stress and adjustment revisited. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55(3), 432-444.

 

Sarason, I. G., Jonson, J. H., & Siegel, J. M. (1978). Development of the life experiences survey. Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology, 46, 932-946.


 

Velez, W. & Javalgi, R. G. (1987). Two-year college to four-year college: The likelihood of transfer. American Journal of Education, 96(1), 81-94.

 

Zultowski, W. H. & Catron, D. W. (1976). High expectations among transfer student and college freshmen: A further analysis of the transfer myth. Journal of College Student Personnel, 17 (2) , 123-126.


 

Table 1

 

Hassles survey questions

 

Students were asked to indicate the degree to which the following items were a hassle:

 

College advising

 

1. Being able to schedule an appointment with my advisor within about a week's wait.

 

2. Finding out the procedure to change my major.

 

3. Going through the procedure to change my major.

 

4. Finding out the procedure to complete a drop/add form.

 

5. Getting the appropriate people to sign/stamp my drop/add form.

 

6. Determining which advisor (peer advisor, professional advisor, graduate student advisor, department advisor) is appropriate for particular questions.

 

7. The hours during which college advising office are open.

 

8. Getting unofficial copies of my transcript.

 

9. Having the College part of my audit complete.

 

10. Getting accurate answers to my advising questions through a phone call to the College office.

 

11. Getting my questions handled quickly when I visit the College office at [location].

 

12. Having my questions understood at the [college location].

 

13. Getting accurate answers to my questions at the [college location].

 

14. Locating written information about deadlines for College procedures.

 

Registration

 

1. Determining if a course is closed.

 

2. Determining the correct procedures for wait-list check-in.

 

3. Determining if a course is cancelled.


 

 

 

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4. Getting corrections made to my transcript.

 

5. The hours during which the records and registration office is open.

 

6. Getting information about appropriate procedures for applying for graduation.

 

7. Receiving sufficient information to enable me to register through [automated registration via telephone call].

 

Finances

 

1. Receiving adequate notice about administrative fees, such as transcript fees, graduation fees, etc.

 

Receiving adequate information about College sources of scholarships.

 

Departmental advising

 

1. Determining the appropriate procedure to oversubscribe a course.

 

2. The hours the department advising office is open.

 

3. Having the department part of my audit completed.

 

4. Learning about changes to the degree program I am pursuing.

 

5. The accuracy of advising information I receive about my major.

 

6. Finding the advising hours of my academic advisor.

 

7. Obtaining information about careers that have been pursued by graduates from my major.

 

8. Learning which courses will count toward requirements.


 

 

 

 

Table 2

 

 

Table 2: Means (*) and Standard Deviations by Survey Subsection (Higher Scores indicate Higher Hassles)

 

Transfers

Natives

 

 

 

Mean

S.D.

Mean

S.D.

F. sig.

 

College Advising

28.74

14.56

26.46

11.2

1.69

**

Registration

13.1

7.17

12.86

7.61

1.13

 

Finances

4.84

2.85

4.97

3

1.11

 

Dept. Advising

17.63

8.24

17.22

8.34

1.03

 

 

Scores within each survey subsection could range from:

College advising: 14 to 70

Registration : 7 to 35

Finances : 2 to 10

Dept. advising : 8 to 40

 

Low scores indicated that the area did not present much hassle to the student. Each individual question was to be answered using a five-point Likert scale.

 

Significant at alpha = .05, two-tailed

 

Table 3: Means, standard deviations, and 'does not apply' [DNA] percentages by item

 

Transfers

Natives

 

 

Mean

s.d.

DNA

Mean

s.d.

DNA

 

College Advising

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Schedule advisor appt.

2.05

1.6

5.8

1.69

1.26

9.4

 

2. Find proced. Change major

1.51

1.67

35.5

1.56

1.29

25.3

 

3. Do change major

1.56

1.8

38.4

1.64

1.59

28.2

 

4. Find proceed. Drop/add

1.71

1.34

8.7

1.39

0.78

4.1

 

5. Getting drop/add signed

2.53

1.67

8.7

2.4

1.47

7.1

 

6. Which advisor to ask

2.95

1.8

7.6

2.75

1.54

6.5

 

7. Hours when office open

2.19

1.38

1.7

1.99

1.3

3.5

 

8. get unoffic. Transcript

1.52

1.35

15.1

1.45

0.99

9.4

 

9. Get college audit

1.8

1.78

25.6

1.72

2

30.6

 

10. Answers via phone

2.73

1.9

15.7

2.26

1.96

21.2

 

11. Questions handled quickly

2.05

1.48

9.9

1.89

1.47

14.7

 

12. Questions understood

1.94

1.45

9.9

1.62

1.23

13.5

 

13. Accurate answers

1.95

1.33

10.5

1.75

1.4

14.1

 

14. Get deadlines

2.27

1.53

9.3

2.38

1.67

11.8

 

Registration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Know if course closed

2.35

1.35

1.2

2.24

1.52

0.6

 

2. Find proced. For wait list

2.13

1.38

5.8

1.82

1.13

1.8

 

3. Know if course is cancelled

2.05

1.56

15.1

2.14

1.57

11.2

 

4. Corrections to transcript

1.95

1.8

32.6

1.69

1.94

38.2

 

5. Hours of records office

1.68

1.12

4.7

1.53

1.15

10.6

 

6. Get grad. Proced. Info.

1.29

1.58

45.9

1.68

2.25

45.3

 

7. Info. To reg. Via phone

1.66

1.37

11.6

1.77

1.28

4.7

 

Finances

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Info. About fees

1.98

1.5

12.2

1.84

1.63

22.9

 

2. Info. About scholarships

2.86

1.89

16.3

3.13

1.9

16.5

 

Dept. Advising

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Find proced. To oversubs.

1.98

1.61

22.7

2.27

1.58

12.9

 

2. Advising office hours

1.91

1.38

4.7

1.84

1.25

5.9

 

3. Dept. audit

1.61

1.68

27.3

1.79

2.15

28.8

 

4. Learning program changes

2.31

1.55

11

2.25

1.51

12.4

 

5. Accuracy of advising info

2.62

1.51

1.2

2.31

1.45

4.1

 

6. Find advising hours

2

1.37

4.7

1.94

1.47

10

 

7. Get career info.

2.5

1.77

16.3

2.65

1.81

15.3

 

8. Learn which courses count

2.72

1.5

0.6

2.18

1.24

1.2