Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, Ed.D.



First Advisor

Rebecca Smith

Second Advisor

Nicole Ralston

Third Advisor

Bruce Weitzel

LC Subjects

Community college students--Education; Counseling in higher education; Community college students--Counseling of; Biology--Study and teaching (Higher)


The purpose of this non-experimental, quantitative study was to investigate the relationship of course-taking patterns of community college students enrolled in a major’s biology sequence to successful transfer into a biology or biology-related degree track at four-year institutions. The research was guided by the seminal work of Adelman (1999, 2006) on course-taking as it relates to academic momentum and the STEM transfer model developed by Wang (2016b). The relationship of course-taking behavior to transfer outcomes for a population of students in a biology transfer sequence at a large, community college in the Western U.S. was addressed using anonymized student transcript data provided by the institution and post-community college enrollment records from the National Student Clearinghouse database.

Multinomial logistic regression was used to investigate the predictive value of leading indicators of academic momentum for the study population, previously identified for community college students in general (Adelman, 1999, 2005; Belfield et al., 2019; Jenkins & Bailey, 2017). Findings indicated that only first term grade point average (GPA) was a significant predictor of transfer for the overall model (χ2 = 9.20(3), p = .03).

Further examination of course-taking behavior found that students had a broad range of college-level coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, and math prior to enrolling in the first class in the major’s sequence. Prior coursework was significantly related to outcomes. Disaggregation of the course-taking behavior revealed differences based on gender, age, race, and ethnicity. There were significant differences in biology, chemistry, and math coursework completed prior to enrolling in the first course in major’s biology based on age but not gender, race, or ethnicity. Few differences in outcomes were found based on gender or age category. However, enrollment intensity varied significantly for students during the term they first attempted major’s biology based on both age and gender but not race or ethnicity.

The value of course-taking behaviors, outcomes in major’s biology, and enrollment intensity as predictors for transfer outcomes was explored using a logistic regression model. Results suggest that outcomes in the gateway major’s biology course may be a useful leading indicator for academic momentum for students in a major’s biology sequence. The overall picture of completion and retention suggest that the first course in the major’s biology sequence is a not just a gateway but a ‘gatekeeper’. Recommendations for improving outcomes in major’s biology based on this study include promoting early student access to discipline specific advising and tutoring. Additionally, given the heterogeneity of college-level STEM preparation for students attempting the major’s biology sequence for the first time, teaching strategies that facilitate equitable learning environments are an important component of supporting student success.


Copyright for this work is retained by the author