Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education and Organizational Leadership Development

Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Tony W. Cawthon

Committee Member

Dr. Michelle L. Boettcher

Committee Member

Dr. Kris K. Frady

Committee Member

Dr. Mary Von Kaenel


The purpose of this interpretive phenomenological study was to highlight the experiences of undergraduate STEM vertical transfer students. Through the lens of Schlossberg’s Transition Theory, this study sought to better understand how students make sense of the transfer credit process and which support structures facilitated their understanding. Semi-structured interviews were conducted using qualitative methods with eight biological sciences and vertical transfer students currently enrolled at a large public four-year land-grant research institution in the Southeast United States. All participants had successfully transferred from one of 16 technical colleges within the state. Using interpretative phenomenological analysis, three themes were identified. This study showed that, as a result of the transfer credit process, vertical transfer students experienced negative implications on their academic degree progress and emotional effects. Vertical transfer students also showed distrust in institutional support and resources. Instead, vertical transfer students acknowledged the importance of themselves and relationships in making decisions while utilizing rationalization as a coping mechanism to move forward in their transition. This study contributes qualitative literature to a quantitative-heavy field of literature surrounding transfer credit policies and their impacts on vertical transfer students. Implications and recommendations for policy and practice include ensuring intentionality from design through implementation in articulation agreements with proper training and compensation for higher education faculty and staff. Future research should continue to focus on qualitative measures to further highlight potential institutional barriers to effective transfer credit policies.



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