Transforming Student Transfer in STEM

Sarah Leibrandt
Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education

Engineering programs are under pressure to change in response to numerous external forces, foremost among them the lack of a sufficient number of graduates to fill the expanding job market for engineers. In addition, as the nation becomes more diverse, STEM education will need to embrace greater numbers of historically underrepresented students.Many aspiring engineers begin their coursework at community colleges with the intention of transferring to a four-year institution. For decades, the currency of transfer has been course equivalencies, determined by faculty and/or registrars at receiving institutions after reviewing course descriptions with their associated seat-time-based credit hours. Yet too many students lose credits, time, and money with this transfer model. An alternative model is one based on student learning outcomes (SLOs) and transfer-level proficiency criteria. The capacity-building grant from NSF has allowed the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and New Mexico State University (NMSU) to begin to test and confirm the feasibility of using lower-division SLOs as the basis for identifying the required knowledge and skills for transfer into electrical engineering programs, as well as the basis for curricular complexity analysis. Three questions have guided the work of this one-year planning grant:1.As course taking can significantly impact a student’s transfer success, what are specific course-related barriers to transferring that students experience, both in course sequencing and the complexity of their curriculum?2.Because of the barriers to transfer, what are some ways in which institutions and particular STEM programs have worked to improve engineering transfer programs?3.How can institutions analyze curricula in terms of student learning outcomes to reduce curricular complexity and streamline their engineering degree pathways?The review of literature supports the urgency to improve efficiency – and reduce complexity – for underrepresented transfer students aspiring to enter engineering degree programs as an important strategy to support access, persistence, and completion. Yet, there are no reported previous significant or systematic STEM transfer approaches based on SLOs and curricular complexity.During this grant period, NMSU has analyzed its BS Electrical Engineering curriculum at a topic-level throughout the entire core (required STEM and EE courses); developed a python-based tool for defining, manipulating, visualizing, and analyzing the progression of topics through the curriculum; and is currently framing topic-level items in terms of SLOs. We have begun recruiting two-year and four-year institutions to use this python-based tool to map the progression of topics through the EE curriculum at their institution and determine a set of learning outcomes that would make up a STEM passport. We hope to carry out this work with support of an Engaged Student Learning 5-year, Level 3 grant.By designing a “passport” of learning outcomes that are necessary for transfer of credit within an electrical engineering curriculum, we can facilitate easier transfer between community colleges and four-year colleges for electrical engineering students. Additionally, the more granular analysis of topics/competencies within courses in a curriculum and the hieararchical relationship between those topics/competencies can allow for more targeted interventions for students who are struggling.


Sarah Leibrandt, Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Boulder, CO; Antonio Garcia, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM; David Smith, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM; Laura Boucheron, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM