Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Regina L. Garza Mitchell, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Andrea Beach, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Jason Taylor, Ph.D.


Articulation, transfer, transfer systems


Quantitative research has long shown lagging community college transfer student completion rates, in addition to excess credits earned and lengthened time-to-degree for transfer students that do earn a bachelor’s degree (Horn & Skomsvold, 2011; Jenkins & Fink, 2016; Simone, 2014; U.S. GAO, 2017). Scant qualitative studies exist related to student transfer, particularly the academic enterprise of articulation and the university perspective on transfer.

This qualitative study takes up the cause, using organizational and systems theories (Birnbaum, 1988; Clark, 1983; Cohen & March, 1974; Morgan, 2006; Senge, 1990; von Bertalanffy, 1972; Weick, 1976) to frame a single site case study with the purpose of examining the organizational system of articulation that guides how community college coursework is evaluated for transfer credit awards at a Midwestern regional public university (RPU). Two research questions directed the study and focused the findings. The first asked how the system of articulation is enacted at a Midwestern regional public university and the second sought understanding of the roles of various articulation system actors.

The methods used involved triangulating analysis of descriptive data along with in-depth document review and semi-structured interviews with articulation system actors. 16 public documents were reviewed, and 19 participants were interviewed who offered rich perspectives on RPU’s system of articulation. The findings share detail on the case site context and structural elements influencing articulation at RPU. Structurally, participants noted fluctuations in institutional prioritization of transfer, rigid policies prescribing credit hour minimums and academic residency requirements, and both regional and disciplinary accreditation standards at play.

RPU’s system of articulation is enacted through overlapping and multi-directional elements including flow of processes, human actors, and cybernetics. The Admissions Office uses a standard flow of processes for intake and evaluation of admitted transfer student transcripts. Academic department processes were described as less consistent and largely undocumented, both externally and internally. Embedded within the flow of processes are cybernetic components that regulate the system and facilitate flow of information including documents, computer systems, databases, and other technology. Major system actors are students, Admissions Office Staff, staff advisors, and academic department personnel (including faculty) who perform variable roles and assume differing levels of authority in the system.

Key takeaways from this research are the centrality of human actors and extreme complexity found within the system of articulation. Altogether, the findings of this research mean that broad transfer policy efforts must consider the breadth and complexities inherent in institutional articulation systems, particularly systems’ reliance on human actors and cybernetic technologies for smooth functioning. Likewise, institutions are wise to consider their own articulation systems and examine how process flows and cybernetics might be improved. Institutions are also encouraged to bolster engagement among and between human actors to empower systems change toward more functional, consistent, and equitable articulation proceedings that may improve transfer student success outcomes.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access