What About Transfer Students?

Instructors sometimes express concern about students who transfer from one institution to another in the middle of the two-semester organic sequence. Could starting (or ending) the sequence in a mechanistically organized course while ending (or starting) the sequence with a course organized by functional group cause students difficulty?

Since I teach at a two-year public institution, Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC), I deal with more transfer students than Joel does at Elon University, a four-year private institution. My data is based only on my experience and some observations about the two-semester sequence, but I have concluded that a student who transfers into or out of a functional group organization does not face a handicap.

I suspect that there are few seamless transfers from any institution to another. That is, as no two organic courses cover the same material in exactly the same order, students can count on having gaps and/or duplications when they begin Organic I at one school and then take Organic II at another. In addition, even instructors using the same text will not cover identical material and may not follow the same sequence. So, there are inherent risks for students when they transfer, regardless of which organization they are currently in; they should expect, as I advise them, to have to pick up some information that an instructor may assume they know from the Organic I course.

Unfortunately, I have no data on student performance about students who transfer from JCTC to other schools. The number of students who do this is small and I, unfortunately, have no way to track their performance when they do. I will note that I have not had any students return to complain about experiencing difficulties in Organic II.

I have taught mechanistically-organized Organic II four times, to classes ranging in size from ten to eighteen students, based on the number who completed the class and received a grade. Of these four classes, nine students out of a total of 51 had completed Organic I at another institution. (Of the nine, two may have been repeating the class.) The distribution of grades among the nine students was two A’s, three B’s, three D’s, and one failing grade for a student who did not come to class after the first exam. These data, albeit sparse, do not suggest the change in organization has an inherent effect on students’ performance.

When students transfer in to take Organic II, I encourage them to review Chapter 7 in Joel’s textbook, which introduces elementary steps in Organic I. The chapters in the latter part of the book are remarkably free-standing, and students quickly jump into the discussion of mechanisms. Consequently, I have never gleaned evidence that the textbook change presents a difficulty. In fact, I find that the logical organization of the second half of Joel’s book provides, overall, a better second-semester experience and that students actually gain from transferring in from another institution.

— Steve Pruett

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