Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education, Health & Behavior Studies

First Advisor

Carolyn Ozaki


The vast majority of students who enroll in a two-year college intend to earn a bachelor’s degree. However, only about 14% transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree within six years (Jenkins & Fink, 2016). The need to increase the number of bachelor’s degree holders (Torpey, 2018), and the increasing number of students beginning at two-year institutions demands the creation of smoother transfer pathways (Handel, 2013). Vertical transfer students comprise a majority of transfer-related studies, however, little research has focused on the efficiency and efficacy of that process (Gard, Paton, & Gosselin, 2012). Institutions can strengthen transfer student resources with a better understanding of students’ transfer experiences. This study sought to understand and analyze the creation and improvement of a vertical transfer program through the lens of Deming’s Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle (The W. Edwards Deming Institute, 2017). A descriptive case study methodology examined one vertical transfer program between a two-year and a four-year institution. Participant interviews, observations, and documents were gathered and analyzed to holistically examine the vertical transfer program’s complexities in its natural context. The six recurring themes emerging from the data uncovered the program’s strengths, but also the challenges the program has faced. Though many of the challenges provided an opportunity for program growth and improvement, participants outlined remaining challenges. Recommendations for future practice are developing a transfer culture, developing institutional partnerships, training employees and incentivizing transfer. By implementing these recommendations, institutions can positively impact student transfer. Given the lack of extant research on how institutions create and improve vertical transfer programming, this case study unveiled how one program lived out its creation and improvement process. Future researchers can use the current study to further expand the student transfer knowledge base by evaluating transfer goal effects, exploring faculty influence on transfer, examining developmental education’s transfer impact, including student perspectives, as well as conducting qualitative research.