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Over the last decade, many universities/colleges have developed formal agreements which permit students from recognized college programs to be able to seamlessly transfer to a closely-related university program with advance standing. There has been some concerned raised that students that come to university from college may not be academically (or emotionally) prepared for the faster-paced university programs. This research, which was funded by an Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer Faculty Fellowship, examines the academic performance of students in computer-related disciplines with a focus on comparing students who come to a university through a formalized college-to-university transfer agreement relative to students who enroll directly from high school. The comparisons will be based on metrics such as graduation rates, course failure rates, overall averages, course-level averages, and course-subject averages.

The use of college-to-university transfer agreements is not novel and has been utilized in several Canadian provinces as well as in the United States [^{1} with Provincial Colleges since 2001. In 2012, Trent was the first Ontario University to have a System-Wide Pathway agreement in place where a qualified student completing a 3-year diploma in either Computer Programmer Analyst (CPA) or Computer Systems Technology (CST) could enter the B.Sc. (Honours) Computer Science program at Trent [

The goal of this research is to compare the academic performance of students who enter the B.Sc. Honours program in a computer-related discipline at Trent University through a formalized articulation agreement relative to the students who come directly from high school. Our study will not just focus on grade-point averages but include metrics such as graduation rates, course failure rates, overall averages, course-level averages, and course-subject averages (COIS, MATH, and Non COIS/MATH). We have explicitly separated computer science courses from math courses as anecdotal evidence has implied that students in computer-related disciplines have not performed as well in math courses as they do in the computer science courses. We are interested in determining if this is a trend, and if so, does it differ between students that enter from college and those that enter directly from high school.

[

2In 2008, the Computer Studies/Science Program at Trent University became the Department of Computing and Information Systems and in 2018, the Department of Computer Science.

3Due to low enrollment, the Mathematics and Computer Science (MACS) degree program was discontinued in 2015.

In order to undertake the study, we required anonymized student and course grade data for students entering a computer-related discipline. At Trent, this corresponded to the following degree programs: Computer Science (COIS), Computer Studies/Science (COST/COSC … offered until 2008^{2}), Computing and Physics (COPH), Mathematics and Computing (MACS … offered until 2015^{3}), and Information Systems (INFO). The data was collected for the years 1997 (the year that the Computer Science/Studies Program began to offer a single-major Honours degree) to 2018. This data was provided by the Office of Institutional Planning and Analysis.

Degree Program | Percentage |
---|---|

COIS | 31.23% |

COPH | 1.62% |

COSC | 41.88% |

COST | 16.43% |

INFO | 8.48% |

MACS | 0.36% |

The data collected by the Office of Institutional Planning and Analysis was provided in two files: a student data table and a course-grade data table. The student data table consisted of the following fields: Student Number, Gender, Starting Term, Residency Status (Domestic or International), Program of Study, Agreement Type (if any), Institution Associated with the Agreement, Entry Path (Direct from High School, Transfer with Credits, Articulation Agreement, System-Wide Pathway, and Other), Type of Degree Program (Single, Joint), Graduating Program, Specializations, and Overall GPA. The Other option as listed within the Entry Path field corresponded to students who came to university with no transfer credits: these would include mature students^{4}, students from domestic/international colleges/universities, and students from domestic high schools/CEGEP outside of Ontario. The student data table contained 1188 records.

The course-grade file on the other hand contained the following fields: Student Number, Term Course Taken, Course Number, Course Level, Was Course Replaced, and Grade. The Was Course Replaced field is a Boolean value which indicates whether the student had taken the same course later in their degree program to replace a mark achieved in an earlier attempt at a course. The course-grade data table held just over 28,000 records.

4A mature student is defined as someone who has been out of school (high-school, college, university) for at least 2 years.

The first task was to clean up the data and put it into a form such that it can be properly analyzed. To accomplish this (as well as the data analysis and graph generation), the R programming environment was used as it provides excellent tools for data manipulation, statistical computation, and data visualization [

We begin the analysis by focusing on the 1113 records that are part of the student data table with the hopes of achieving a better understanding of the students in the study. The student data were processed using R scripts to first identify how the student arrived to the university (Entry Path), and then based on the Entry Path, how the students were distributed based on gender and residency (domestic versus international). We then moved on to examine more academic attributes for the various Entry Paths such as degree completion rates, degrees completed in a computer-related discipline, and students who changed major (both into and out of a computer-related discipline).

From our results, we can observe that the largest group of students were accepted directly from an Ontario High School (37.7%). Interestingly enough, this does not represent the majority as it might with other disciplines within the University. A significant proportion of students (62.3%) coming to university to pursue a computer-related discipline transfer from domestic/international colleges/universities or from domestic high schools outside of Ontario (with or without transfer credits).

With respect to gender, the results from

The residency of the students broken down by entry path is shown in

Entry Path | Number of Students | Percentage |
---|---|---|

Direct from High School | 420 | 37.74% |

Articulation Agreement | 115 | 10.33% |

Transfer with Credits | 256 | 23.00% |

Other | 322 | 28.93% |

Entry Path | Male | Female | Male | Female |
---|---|---|---|---|

Direct from High School | 353 | 66 | 84.25% | 15.75% |

Articulation Agreement | 99 | 15 | 86.84% | 13.16% |

Transfer with Credits | 204 | 50 | 80.31% | 19.69% |

Other | 254 | 66 | 79.38% | 20.62% |

Entry Path | Domestic | Int’l | Unknown | Domestic | Int’l | Unknown |
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Direct from High School | 385 | 22 | 13 | 91.67% | 5.24% | 3.10% |

Articulation Agreement | 108 | 7 | 0 | 93.91% | 6.09% | 0.00% |

Transfer with Credits | 169 | 81 | 6 | 66.02% | 31.64% | 2.34% |

Other | 152 | 144 | 26 | 47.20% | 44.72% | 8.07% |

The most revealing observation seems to be the graduation rate of students from the Articulation Agreement group: 84.5% of students coming from Articulation Agreements graduate with a degree^{5} compared to only 65.0% of students who come directly from an Ontario High School. In addition, it appears from our study that students who enter university with transfer credits also fair better than students directly from high school: a 72.8% graduation rate. The maturity that comes from completing some level of postsecondary schooling before entering university appears to be a benefit.

5The degree may not be in a computer-related discipline but this will be discussed in an upcoming sub-section.

We next examine of those students who completed a degree, the proportion who completed a degree in a computer-related discipline. These results are presented in

The results again are quite telling with 96.8% of students who come to university through an Articulation Agreement complete their degree within the discipline set out by the agreement. The values for the other three categories are in the mid-to-high 80’s. While not surprising, it is comforting to see that the Articulation Agreement students do tend to remain with the terms of the agreement.

One final metric that we will include in this section is a comparison of the students who declare a computer-related major but do not graduate with a computer-related degree versus the number of students who do not declare a computer-related major but end up graduating with a computer-related degree^{6}. These results are show in

6At Trent University, unless students are in a professional program, they are able to change majors quite easily.

As expected, the results for the Articulation Agreement students show that a very small percentage (less than 5%) change majors. The students in this group are often bound to an agreement so changing majors is more difficult. It is interesting to observe however, that in the other three groups there is a far greater percentage of students who do not declare a computer-related major but end up completing a computer-related degree (in some cases, such as the students from the Direct from High School and other groups, up to three times as much). Overall, our results show that a greater percentage of students seem to switch into a computer-related discipline rather than switch out.

Entry Path | Yes | No | Yes | No |
---|---|---|---|---|

Direct from High School | 191 | 103 | 64.97% | 35.03% |

Articulation Agreement | 93 | 17 | 84.55% | 15.45% |

Transfer with Credits | 155 | 58 | 72.77% | 27.23% |

Other | 186 | 88 | 67.88% | 32.12% |

Entry Path | Yes | No | Yes | No |
---|---|---|---|---|

Direct from High School | 168 | 23 | 87.96% | 12.04% |

Articulation Agreement | 90 | 3 | 96.77% | 3.23% |

Transfer with Credits | 135 | 20 | 87.10% | 12.90% |

Other | 158 | 28 | 84.95% | 15.05% |

Entry Path | COIS Declared/Not COIS Degree | COIS Not Declared/COIS Degree | % Declared/No COIS | % Not Declared/COIS |
---|---|---|---|---|

Direct from High School | 23 | 71 | 5.48% | 16.90% |

Articulation Agreement | 3 | 5 | 2.61% | 4.35% |

Transfer with Credits | 20 | 32 | 7.81% | 12.50% |

Other | 27 | 75 | 8.39% | 23.29% |

In this section, we will analyze student performance across the four groups of entry paths. To accomplish this, we joined the student data table with the course-grade data table. This permitted us to create R scripts to examine student performance across entry path groups, disciplines, and course levels.

We begin by examining grade averages over the four entry path groups. The data presented here are weighted averages based on the number of credits for each course (i.e., a full course is weighted 1.0 and a half course is weighted 0.5). The information is spread across four tables: Overall Average (

Entry Path | Average |
---|---|

Direct from High School | 69.51 |

Articulation Agreement | 75.54 |

Transfer with Credits | 75.42 |

Other | 73.14 |

Entry Path | Average |
---|---|

Direct from High School | 72.75 |

Articulation Agreement | 77.76 |

Transfer with Credits | 77.10 |

Other | 75.43 |

Entry Path | Average |
---|---|

Direct from High School | 64.11 |

Articulation Agreement | 71.83 |

Transfer with Credits | 73.31 |

Other | 72.48 |

Entry Path | Average |
---|---|

Direct from High School | 68.08 |

Articulation Agreement | 72.97 |

Transfer with Credits | 73.73 |

Other | 71.15 |

We can observe from these tables that students that come to university via formalized articulation agreements and students who transfer to university with credits tend to outperform the other two groups across all four categories (in some cases, by 5 - 8 percentage points). Students that come to university directly from high school seem to have the lowest academic performance across all four groups. Not surprisingly, students in computer-related disciplines perform best in COIS courses and have their lowest marks in MATH courses. The results also indicate that the students from Articulation Agreements do tend to struggle a bit more with the MATH courses but not as significantly as students directly out of high school (4.9% drop versus a 7.8% drop). Students who come to university from out of province or as mature students (the Other group) tend to have the most consistent performance across the various discipline-specific areas examined in this study (albeit at a lower academic performance level). In the end, we can infer from these tables that students from Articulation Agreements (and those who transfer with university credits) tend to perform at a higher academic level than students directly out of high school or those who transfer with no academic credits (with the one exception associated with MATH courses).

In ^{7}. Essentially, the results from the violin plots do not affect the overall conclusions when comparing the means to medians. Within each subgraph, different colors are used for each of the entry paths: green for Direct from High School, mauve for Articulation Agreement, pink for Transfer with Credits, and orange for other.

The results indicate that the students who come to university with advanced credits do seem to perform better academically. With respect to the Overall Average, students from the Articulation Agreements tend to perform better than the other three groups. There is only a slight advantage over students with transfer credits but from the violin plots we can observe that the Articulation Agreement group has less variance and fewer outliers then the Transfer Credit group (the plot is wider and does not have a long tail). Both of these groups tend to outperform the students that come directly from High School and the Other group.

7A box plot only shows summary statistics such as median, interquartile ranges, and outliers, while a violin plot shows the full distribution of the data.

With respect to medians, we can see from

An interesting observation from the MATH and non-MATH/COIS courses is the long tails in the violin plots for all entry groups. This implies that all four entry path groups had a number of outliers (averages lower than the bounds defined by a function of the interquartile range) in the MATH and non-MATH/COIS courses in addition to having lower averages in general. This is not surprising however as students tend to perform better academically in their home discipline (COIS courses) which is also supported by the results shown in

The basic conclusion we can draw from

We next examine the performance of the various student entry groups by course level to determine if there are any noticeable differences between averages obtained by students in upper-year (300- or 400-level) or lower-year (100- or 200-level) courses spread over the various disciplines (Overall, COIS, MATH, and elective courses). These results are shown in the violin plots given by Figures 2-5. As we did for

We begin by examining the overall course average for the different groups of students for the four different course levels (

In

With respect to MATH courses,

The final composite graph in this section (

Up until this point in the study, we have concentrated our investigation of the students across the four entry paths by focusing on numeric averages with the hope that this would give us some insight into the distribution of the grades. We would now like to examine the grades more closely by presenting the distribution of letters grades for the different entry paths and across the various course groupings.

It is clear from

With respect to the discipline-specific areas (COIS, MATH, and elective courses), the conclusions about letter grade distributions were quite similar to what was seen in

students with respect to MATH courses did not seem to match that of students who transfer to university with credits (but still better than students directly from High School). The implication is that the college-level Math courses may not be adequately preparing Articulation Agreement students for university-level Math courses.

The results from our study have led us to conclude that students who enter a computer-related discipline at university through a formalized mechanism (such as an Articulation Agreement or System-Wide Pathway) tend to be academically successful. Compared to students directly out of high school, students from these formalized agreements have higher overall averages, higher averages in their computer-related and elective courses, have a higher degree completion rate (and hence a lower dropout rate), achieve a larger percentage of top marks (A’s), and are less likely to do poorly in their courses (achieve D’s and F’s). These trends also apply to students who enter university with advanced transfer credits. This leads us to conclude that the maturity that comes from completing some postsecondary education seems to be quite beneficial.

Going forward, it is our intention to dig deeper into our student data to examine types of degrees (joint- or single-major, General or Honours), failure rates for specific courses (in both COIS and MATH), and also examine the academic performance broken down by attributes such as gender and residency. We would also like to investigate non-COIS departments at our university that are involved in Articulation Agreements. We are curious to see if the same success we found for students from formalized agreements holds true in other disciplines.

We would like to begin by thanking the Ontario Council on Articulation and Transfer for the ONCAT Faculty Fellowship and in particular, Sarah Fuchs at ONCAT for all her help and support. We would also like to thank Hailey Wright, Manager, Community Relations and Articulation at Trent University Durham-GTA for suggesting that we become involved in the project and Kris Lew in the Office of Institutional Planning and Analysis at Trent for handling our NUMEROUS requests for data.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.

Hurley, R. and Mitchell, J. (2021) Investigation of the Academic Performance of College-to-University Transfer Students. Journal of Software Engineering and Applications, 14, 67-81. https://doi.org/10.4236/jsea.2021.142005