Transfer Intelligence: How Community College Transfer Students Work toward a Bachelor s in Criminal Justice

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1 Transfer Intelligence: How Community College Transfer Students Work toward a Bachelor s in Criminal Justice Lisel Blash, Darla Cooper, Kelley Karandjeff, Nathan Pellegrin, Diane Rodriguez-Kiino, Eva Schiorring and Terrence Willett the Research & Planning Group for California Community Colleges The RP Group is a nonprofit organization working to build a community college culture that views planning, evidence-based decision-making and institutional effectiveness as key strategies for student success. Introduction The field of criminal justice offers a broad range of career opportunities and, in California, there is an increasing need for a trained workforce that can enter these occupations as the state s population grows. i The word appears to be out. An examination of California s community colleges shows a robust infrastructure of administration of justice courses and programs. One of the leading career-oriented The RP Group s Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) is funded by the James Irvine Foundation and the California Community Colleges State Chancellor s Office. disciplines found across the state, more than 40 community colleges offer this area of study in Moreover, many students appear to be using the community college system as a launch pad for baccalaureate degree completion in criminal justice at the university level recognizing that some law enforcement and corrections positions require this type of preparation for entry and/or advancement. From fall 2006 through fall 2010, criminal justice transfer students accounted for about 3% of all transfer students from the state s community colleges to its public universities. ii Still other students are transitioning to private universities as an alternative to the increasingly impacted programs found primarily in the California State University (CSU) system. With so many students flooding this educational pipeline and with the programmatic capacity of CSUs severely limited by budget cuts, it appears critical to understand how transfer is working for students and what can be done to improve the efficiency of criminal justice pathways between two- and four-year universities both public and private. To inform these issues, the RP Group s Student Transfer in The RP Group completed this work in collaboration with the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success (Cal-PASS). Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) Spring 2012 Page 1

2 Professional Pathways Project (STP3) examined: (1) how students who complete a bachelor s in criminal justice used the state s community colleges to prepare for transfer, (2) what factors impacted students journey and transition to both public and private universities and (3) what opportunities exist for further strengthening of transfer paths in this discipline. This research brief is part of a series of reports that present discipline-specific information from the Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project a multi-year study of community college transfer in five career-oriented majors including accounting, criminal justice, engineering, nursing and teacher education. The brief shares results from a quantitative analysis of over 4,500 transfer students who completed a baccalaureate in criminal justice and qualitative research that identified key themes from contact with over 280 students who recently transferred and are pursuing this degree. Highlights include: Community college transfer students who ultimately completed a criminal justice baccalaureate reflect the diversity of the state; 35% were white, 32% Latino, 15% Asian and 7% African-American Spotlight on SB1440: Transfer Model Curriculum for Administration of Justice In 2011, the Academic Senates of the California Community Colleges and the California State Universities partnered to establish an Associate of Science in Administration of Justice through SB1440 (Padilla, 2010). This curriculum identifies a common standard of readiness for community college students who aim to transfer to a CSU in this major, including a minimum 18 units of prescribed coursework. Students who complete this curriculum are guaranteed special admission preferences in the CSU system. This new transfer agreement represents one promising effort to make the criminal justice transfer path more efficient and effective for students. For more information, visit: Roughly half of criminal justice transfer students started below college level in English and nearly three quarters began below college level in math Over 60% of students completed an associate s degree prior to transferring (the largest percent of all five disciplines studied); 16% achieved an associate s degree related to administration of justice The RP Group designed this research brief for those closely engaged in strengthening criminal justice transfer pathways in California, including community college and university educators. We intend for this document to: Share information discovered about transfer in criminal justice through this study Promote a dialog about what the findings mean and how they can be used to improve transfer in this discipline We start with an overview of the RP Group s research on criminal justice transfer. We then present key findings on how community college transfer students work toward a bachelor s degree in criminal justice as well as the factors that impact their journey. We conclude with a series of discussion questions to stimulate reflection on and dialog about how educators might respond to and use this research. Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) Spring 2012 Page 2

3 How did we conduct this research? The RP Group studied students post-transfer, including those currently enrolled in baccalaureatelevel criminal justice programs and those who successfully achieved a bachelor s degree in criminal justice. Six primary research questions drove this portion of our study: Question 1: Who are transfer students? Question 2: How do students get on the criminal justice transfer path? Question 3: How do they use the community college system to prepare for transfer? Question 4: What challenges them along the way to transfer and degree? Question 5: What supports them toward transfer and degree? Question 6: What happens to students after transfer? The RP Group s study includes: Analysis of the transfer path taken by over 4,500 students who successfully completed a criminal justice baccalaureate Surveys and focus groups with over 280 transfer students currently enrolled in baccalaureate-level criminal justice programs We explored these questions through the research activities described below. Backward mapping the journey of baccalaureate achievers (quantitative data analysis). The RP Group collaborated with the California Partnership for Achieving Student Success (Cal- PASS) to analyze student records and identify the educational paths taken by 4,555 transfers who ultimately achieved a baccalaureate in criminal justice between fall 1996 and spring Twelve universities were part of this analysis including undergraduate programs at 11 California State Universities (CSUs) and one private university. Readers should be advised that this analysis was limited to those institutions participating in Cal-PASS. iii Our sample targeted students who completed at least 12 transferable units at a California community college and who had at least two years of university course data available prior to degree completion. The cohort does not include students who already completed a baccalaureate and returned to use the community college system to work toward transfer and completion of a criminal justice baccalaureate. We performed analyses of completers demographics, time and units to transfer and degree, pre-transfer coursework including their first English and math class, number of community colleges attended, use of support services like financial aid and the impact of these and other factors on time to transfer and degree. Documenting the experience of students post-transfer (student surveys and interviews). To expand on and complement these quantitative findings, the RP Group used two different methods to gather the perspectives of recent transfer students. We targeted students now pursuing their baccalaureate degree in criminal justice at two CSUs and one private, for-profit university; these universities were selected because they were among the largest recipients of criminal justice transfer students found in California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) database between 2000 and Approximately 270 students completed surveys. In addition, 12 transfer Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) Spring 2012 Page 3

4 students from one participating CSU took part in phone interviews. The surveys and interviews were designed to increase our understanding of how students used community colleges to prepare for transfer; the factors that impacted their transfer experience; and their advice to peers, community colleges and four-year institutions about how to strengthen the preparation and transition of future criminal justice transfer students. The qualitative findings should not be used on their own to draw conclusions or make generalizations about criminal justice transfer paths beyond the students interviewed. Rather, the perspectives harvested through these activities highlight themes, illustrate complex experiences and augment the quantitative evidence. What are the key findings? The following section presents key findings related to the six research questions (see p. 3) explored through the RP Group s examination of the criminal justice transfer pathway. Where possible, we supply results from all three of the study s primary research activities (quantitative data analysis, student surveys and student interviews) to answer these questions. At the same time, some questions are solely informed by findings from one or two research activities. Question 1: Who are the transfer students? Quantitative analysis of students educational paths to transfer and degree and survey responses provided a range of insights into the composition of students who transfer and complete a degree in this discipline. The quantitative analysis showed balanced gender representation among those transfer students who completed a baccalaureate in criminal justice (50% female and 50% male). It also found that these students were primarily white (35%) and Latino (32%). Survey responses revealed that transfer students currently enrolled in the three university-level programs involved in this portion of STP3 tended to be more female than male (60% and 40% respectively across participating universities). While survey responses generally aligned with the quantitative analysis findings on transfer students ethnicity, there were differences between institutions. Accordingly, survey participants attending the private for-profit university were more likely to be Latino (44%) and African-American (13%) compared to those enrolled at the participating CSUs (34% and 3% respectively). In terms of age, CSU survey participants were younger on average than those attending the private, for-profit university. Approximately 71% of CSU participants reported being 20 to 24 years of age versus the private university students who were distributed more evenly across several age categories (28% were 20 to 24, 29% 25 to 30, 14% 30 to 34 and 16% 35 to 39). Regardless of their university affiliation, a significant percent of transfer students indicated they were first-generation college goers. Over half (54%) of survey respondents at the three participating universities reported being first in their immediate families to go to college. Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) Spring 2012 Page 4

5 Question 2: How do students get on the road to transfer in criminal justice? Surveys offered an opportunity to explore students transfer motivations, awareness of the opportunity to transfer and decision point for major. Participants across all three universities indicated their top motivators for transferring were the pursuit of a personal educational goal (83% on average) followed by the opportunity for better job or career advancement (72%). CSU participants were more likely to indicate they were aware of the opportunity to transfer while enrolled at a community college than those from the private, for-profit institution (63% and 47% respectively). The same percentage of students decided to pursue a career in criminal justice from the start of their community college enrollment (39% across all participating institutions). At the same time, one third of survey participants attending the private, for-profit university reported they had not made this decision by the time they completed their community college enrollment (compared to 14% of CSU participants). Follow-up interviews with students at one participating CSU found similar results. Like survey respondents, some students indicated that they were pursuing a bachelor s in criminal justice to achieve upward mobility and improved job prospects. Others indicated that they were compelled by the opportunity to help people through this profession and have an impact on improving the criminal justice system. Still others reported having their interest in the subject piqued while participating in fieldwork or pre-professional experiences. Interviewees also indicated their families provided support and inspiration to advance their education while some participants were motivated by their peers, in some instances driven by the desire to choose a path different from less directed and indefinitely enrolled peers. Question 3: How do criminal justice students use community colleges to prepare for transfer? Why criminal justice? [Because of my] extended family that are either in the system or have been in the system. I ve seen how it affects their children and the rest of our family. And I just wanted to try to get into the field to try to change it. -CSU Transfer Student The RP Group explored how students used the community college system to prepare for transfer in criminal justice through both the quantitative analysis of students educational paths and surveys with transfer students currently enrolled in a university program. The quantitative analysis of student educational paths revealed that nearly half (47%) took below transfer level English while nearly three quarters (75%) took below transfer level math while enrolled at a community college. Ultimately, three quarters of students completed statistics before transferring. The quantitative analysis also revealed that general education (GE) units comprised 57% percent of transfer students community college coursework followed by science, technology, Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) Spring 2012 Page 5

6 engineering and math (20%) and administration of justice (19%) units. That said, the portion of students GE units decreased as overall community college units increased, which included additional administration of justice or other CTE courses. Almost two thirds (63%) swirled or attended two or more universities to access these courses. Additionally, this analysis showed that a majority of criminal justice students completed an associate s degree or certificate before transferring. Approximately 16% completed an associate s degree or certificate related to this major while another 46% completed one unrelated to the discipline; 38% transferred without completing this milestone. Finally, mapping students educational paths found that half of students (49%) took more than two and less than four years to transfer while more than a third (37%) took more than four years; the median was 3.7 years. Not surprising, students with fewer community college units took fewer years to transfer while the large majority (75%) of those who earned more than 86 units took four or more years to transition to a baccalaureate level program. Survey results additionally confirmed students use of community college system to complete criminal justice coursework. Over half of participants indicated they took courses related to criminal justice while enrolled in a community college, although courses identified by students varied widely. Examples included Introduction to Criminal Justice, Administration of Justice, Criminal Law, Criminal Evidence, Juvenile Justice/Law/Delinquency, Introduction to Evidence and Corrections. Like the results found in the quantitative analysis, 68% of CSU survey respondents reported achieving a certificate or degree before transferring. At the same time, fewer (32%) of those attending the private, for-profit university reported completing this milestone. Question 4: What challenges do students encounter along the way to transfer and degree? Surveys and interviews allowed for the exploration of the challenges students encountered along the way to transfer and degree. The cost of attending a university surfaced as the top challenge identified by transfer students regardless of their university affiliation (29%). Next level challenges appeared to vary by transfer destination. Roughly a quarter (24%) attending one participating CSU and the private, for-profit university identified as a challenge to transfer the need to work to support themselves or their families. Approximately 20% from the other participating CSU cited lack of clear guidance from their community college as a barrier. I wish they had a little more collaboration [and] communication between [the] regular counselors and the transfer counselors [at my community college].it can really affect [you] when a counselor tells you one thing and [a] transfer counselor tells you another thing. -CSU Transfer Student Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) Spring 2012 Page 6

7 Similar themes surfaced in interviews with students who transferred to one participating CSU. A large majority of interviewees noted they had personal struggles complicating their transfer journey, with half of participants indicating they specifically struggled with financial challenges. Over half of interviewees also reported experiencing difficulties with guidance and advising while enrolled at a community college. These difficulties included perceived challenge obtaining accurate transfer information or securing the time needed for thorough guidance. Question 5: What supports criminal justice students toward transfer and degree? Surveys and interviews with transfer students now attending university-level criminal justice programs also revealed insights about what factors facilitate students transfer journey. One of the central supports explored through this research was educational planning. CSU survey respondents (81%) were more likely to report completing an education plan while enrolled at a community college than those attending the private, for-profit university (48%). Transfer students who completed an education plans most frequently reported receiving help from a counselor when planning their course of study. Also among those with an education plan, 71% indicated their plan included criminal justice coursework. Unique to this discipline, an average of 26% survey respondents across all participating institutions also indicated they participated in Extended Opportunities Programs and Services (EOPS) while enrolled at a community college far higher than the state average of 3% of all current California community college students participating in EOPS. While some interviewees indicated they struggled to get accurate guidance and advice during their community college experience, most indicated they ultimately connected with a supportive counselor or student services professional before transferring. Interviewees cited a range of sources for this support including EOPS as well as general counseling, transfer centers and Veteran s Affairs programs. In alignment with the survey findings on education planning, all interviewees noted the critical importance of adhering to a transfer road map and the value of taking transferrable criminal justice coursework while enrolled at a community college. Question 6: What happens to criminal justice students after transfer? If I didn t have the counselors, and I wasn t in EOPS, I honestly think I would be lost because there were times where I had no idea what to do.but my counselor and my peer advisor would actually sit down with me and explain the situation what I had to do. And they also made a transfer map, so I knew exactly what to do. -CSU Transfer Student Survey responses provided insights on students selection of a transfer destination, the type of degree they were pursuing at the university level, the support they received post-transfer and Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) Spring 2012 Page 7

8 their perceived readiness for upper-division work. Survey respondents across all participating universities were most likely to select program meets my educational/career goals as their top driver for university selection; other top reasons included the availability of financial aid, reputation of the college/university and affordability. The type of degree students reported pursuing appeared to depend on their transfer destination and included options such as a bachelor s programs in criminal justice and criminal justice administration or management. Students seemed to have a favorable view of the orientation and advising they encountered upon enrollment in their transfer destination. An average of 85% of survey respondents reported their university s transfer orientation was average to excellent; 86% reported their university s criminal justice advising was average to excellent. In terms of their preparation for upperdivision work, a large majority (81%) of survey respondents across all participating universities indicated they felt equally to much more prepared compared to their peers who began their high education career at the university. Quantitative analysis of students educational paths provided interesting information on students time and units from first community college enrollment to baccalaureate achievement. Criminal justice transfer students took a median of 5.8 years between their first community college enrollment and baccalaureate degree completion. The largest percentage of student (41%) took four to six years to complete their degree from their first community college enrollment; another 28% took between six and eight years while still another 13% took eight to ten years. Of all disciplines studied, criminal justice students took less time to achieve their baccalaureate degree than students in all but one other discipline (teacher education). Those who took less than six years to complete their criminal justice degree where more likely to have fewer transferrable community college units while those who took six to ten years to achieve their baccalaureate were more likely to have more transferrable community college units. When specifically examining criminal justice students time and units between transfer and degree, the quantitative analysis also found that they took a median of 2.2 years between transferring and completing their baccalaureate degree. This analysis also found a significant association between the number of administration of justice units earned at a community college and the number earned at the university level. The more administration of justice units a transfer student earned at a community college, the fewer the units they earned while enrolled at a university. Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) Spring 2012 Page 8

9 How can we make this research work for you and for students? The RP Group is eager for these findings on the criminal justice pathway to support the work of educators interested in increasing students transfer success. To this end, the following section offers two sets of discussion questions to promote dialog among those engaged in preparing California s criminal justice workforce. One set focuses on how the research reflects your own experience and the other explores how these findings can be used for action, including helping students achieve a baccalaureate and informing efforts to ensure the supply of individuals prepared to work in criminal justice aligns with labor market demand across the state. How does this research reflect your own experience? The following questions are designed to help criminal justice educators facilitate discussions on your campuses and across institutions and segments about your own experience promoting transfer. Discussion Questions: How do the findings align with your experience supporting students in their effort to transfer and complete a baccalaureate in criminal justice? What findings are particularly useful? How might you use them? What issues seem unresolved? What additional research would be of value to your work? How can we use this research to improve the criminal justice pathway? This research suggests several possible opportunities for enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice transfer pathway, many of them coming from the experts successful transfer students. Community college and university educators, inter-segmental groups and policy advocates might consider ways to work both independently and collaboratively to explore these points for improvement. Possible discussion questions for criminal justice transfer stakeholders include the following. Discussion Questions: Given the significant percent of administration of justice transfer students who start below college level in English and math, what can Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) Spring 2012 Page 9

10 community colleges do to effectively address these learners needs in the context of the discipline? Given current budget and programmatic constraints across all segments, how can advising be strengthened to ensure community college students seeking support get accurate, timely and realistic guidance about transfer options and requirements in this discipline? How can community colleges and universities work together to make the associate s degrees achieved by so many transfer students count toward completing a bachelor s in criminal justice? How can both community colleges and CSUs partner to steer students toward finishing the Associate of Science Degree in Administration of Justice developed through SB1440? With so many CSU criminal justice programs impacted, what alternatives do private universities offer to community college transfer students pursuing this major? How can this research inform how community colleges develop relationships with these institutions? What value does the diverse composition of transfer students completing baccalaureate degrees in criminal justice highlighted through this research offer potential employers? For more information For more information on the Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project, visit or contact Eva Schiorring, Project Director, Notes i ii iii For specific information on labor market projections, visit: California Postsecondary Education Commission. (2011). Retrieved May 24, 2011 from Cal-PASS is a voluntary statewide data sharing system to track students transitioning among institutions and segments such as high school to college and community college to university. Student Transfer in Professional Pathways Project (STP3) Spring 2012 Page 10

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