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Million-Dollar Idea Helps Fulfill Tennessee Promise

 

A new program designed to help Tennessee’s community college students better navigate the transition to the University of Tennessee has gained $1 million in support and recognition from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Following the establishment of the Tennessee Promise program, which provides two years of free community college to the state’s students, faculty members in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering met to come up with a plan to accommodate transfer students and position them for success in the college.

The team focused on the five-year graduation rate for engineering transfer students—71 percent, compared to 85 percent for traditional students who enter as freshmen.

“Transfer students face a unique set of challenges compared to traditional students,” said Materials Science and Engineering Professor David Keffer, leader on the project. “We sought to develop a program, based on input from many directions, to create an experience for transfer students which addresses well-identified academic and social obstacles to successful completion of their degree.”

From those meetings, TranSCEnD—Transfer Success Co-Design in Engineering Disciplines was born. The initial NSF grant lasts through 2022, when it will come up for renewal based on the plan’s success.

The team is working on a program that covers all five years of the students’ experience at both institutions. Chris Wetteland, a lecturer in materials science and engineering, is developing a summer research program to improve the transitional experience, while Rachel McCord, a faculty member in the college’s engineering fundamentals program, is developing methods to improve student success.

“These elements will maximize the benefit of the state’s investment in its future via Tennessee Promise,” said Keffer. “Once we demonstrate that the TranSCEnD program works here, we will share it with other institutions.”

TranSCEnD members considered other factors facing transfer students in comparison to traditional students who enter the program as freshmen. Among their findings, they learned that transfer students:

  • are almost twice as likely to be first-generation students
  • have more than double the unmet financial need of traditional students
  • face stresses over class sizes and communication with faculty
  • often find it challenging to become a part of peer groups, some of which have already worked together for two years

The goal is to increase support for transfer students to bring retention and graduation rates to a comparable level with those of traditional undergraduates.

The TranSCEnD team’s efforts now involve Tickle College of Engineering staff, researchers, and administration; UT’s admissions office; and faculty from Pellissippi State Community College. More than half of the students transferring into the college completed their associate’s degree at Pellissippi State.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.

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