Diversity and Democracy

Using E-Portfolios to Support Transfer Student Success

Transferring from a community college to a four-year institution can be stressful. After transfer, students often experience a temporary dip in grade point average (Thurmond 2007) and struggle to become engaged (Terris 2009). Acclimating to a new environment can be especially difficult for underrepresented minority (URM) students transferring to schools that lack a critical mass of URM students and faculty, the presence of which has been associated with greater student success (Hagedorn et al. 2007). In the absence of critical mass, institutions must find other ways to support URM students and increase their presence on campus.

Since 2000, Purchase College of the State University of New York has offered the Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&B) program to support URM students as they transition from community colleges to four-year institutions. Initially established to improve the success of URM students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the B&B program expanded in 2007 to include students from all liberal arts disciplines. Recently, Purchase College introduced e-portfolios into the B&B curriculum as a means of measuring and advancing students’ development of academic identity, future orientation, and scholarly community—elements that likely contribute to student success.

Program Structure

The B&B program is a five-week summer research experience that takes place immediately following Memorial Day. Each year, the program draws approximately forty students from six community colleges. Students are selected for the program after a review of their applications, which include transcripts, a personal essay, and a letter of recommendation. To qualify, students must be eighteen or older, with one semester of community college work completed and with a minimum grade point average of 2.8.

Participating STEM students conduct original research in small lab groups, while humanities and social science students complete an interdisciplinary course on identity and an independent research project. These intensive educational experiences are the first chance many of the students have to fully immerse themselves in a scholarly pursuit. The program’s research meetings, field trips, workshops, and communal living build a sense of scholarly community among participants. Group and individual advising sessions encourage future orientation and prepare students for transfer by providing a roadmap for success. The program culminates with a conference at which students present their research, sharing their academic identity with family members, friends, and representatives from their home institutions.

The program has served over 450 students, 73 percent of whom have transferred to four-year institutions. This transfer rate is substantially higher than the norm: according to Mullen (2012), only 36 percent of community college students who intend to obtain a bachelor’s degree actually transfer to a four-year school. In recognition of the program’s success, the National Science Foundation awarded Purchase College its Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring in 2011.

Identity Shift

B&B faculty and staff have long believed that students’ success is supported by the development of academic identity and future orientation. Five years ago, we began collecting data on identity shift using the Twenty Statements Test. During the first and final weeks of the program, students complete the phrase “I am” twenty times. By the end of the program, students are more likely to describe themselves in academic ways—for example, as “scholars,” “lab rats,” and “geeks”—than they were at the beginning. They are also more likely to describe their long-term goals—such as to “be a scientist,” “make a difference,” or “get my degree”—rather than focusing on their current status.

We see these changes in self-description as reflecting shifts in academic identity and future orientation (Singer-Freeman and Bastone 2013), factors that we believe support students’ persistence after transfer. Accordingly, we have sought tools to help students develop these characteristics, including e-portfolios. E-portfolios appear well suited to helping students develop future goals (Barrett 2004). They are also a useful means of documenting learning from activities like intensive research experiences (Wang 2009) and are hypothesized to support reflection, engagement, and active learning (Yancey 2009).

E-Portfolio Use

In 2012, we introduced students to the Mahara e-portfolio system and suggested that e-portfolios could become social media pages for students’ scholarly identities. At an initial workshop, students created e-portfolio pages, wrote journal entries and essays, and reviewed and uploaded the B&B program’s learning goals. Following the first meeting, we held weekly workshops in which students wrote journal entries and uploaded evidence of their learning, such as annotations of research articles, written assignments, lab notes, current résumés, photographs and videos of their lab work and projects, and PowerPoint presentations.

We used students’ e-portfolios to assess identity shift during the B&B program for the years 2012 and 2013. We coded sixty-one students’ first and last journal entries for the number of times they referred to (1) academic identity, through references to scholarly thoughts or accomplishments; (2) future orientation, reflected in statements describing long-term goals and plans; and (3) scholarly community, indicated by statements describing relationships in the context of learning. From the first to the fifth week, the average number of references to academic identity rose significantly from 3.90 to 4.75, the average number of references reflecting future orientation rose significantly from .32 to .61, and the average number of references to scholarly community rose significantly from .48 to 1.27.

While these results largely replicated the results of the Twenty Statements Test, individual students responded differently to each measure, suggesting that both measures combined may paint a more accurate picture of student growth than either measure would alone. Additionally, the e-portfolios provided evidence of a developing sense of scholarly community that was not reflected in responses to the Twenty Statements Test—perhaps because the public nature of e-portfolios may encourage reflection on community in ways that the relatively private Twenty Statements Test may not. We hypothesize that e-portfolios may actually contribute to students developing a sense of scholarly community.


The inclusion of e-portfolios enhanced students’ experience in the B&B program and has provided us with another window into their developing identities as they engage in undergraduate research. In the future, we hope to test our hypothesis that identity shifts are associated with increased persistence or academic engagement. We will also continue seeking ways to encourage students to see themselves as future-oriented academics who belong to a community of scholars.


Barrett, Helen C. 2004. “Electronic Portfolios as Digital Stories of Deep Learning.” http://electronicportfolios.org/digistory/epstory.html.

Hagedorn, Linda S., Winny (YanFang) Chi, Rita M. Cepeda, and Melissa McLain. 2007. “An Investigation of Critical Mass: The Role of Latino Representation in the Success of Urban Community College Students.” Research in Higher Education 48 (1): 73–91.

Mullin, Christopher M. 2012. Transfer: An Indispensable Part of the Community College Mission. American Association of Community Colleges Policy Brief 2012-03PBL. http://www.aacc.nche.edu/Publications/

Singer-Freeman, Karen E., and Linda Bastone. 2013. “Oh the Places You’ll Go: Identity Shift in a Summer Research Program.” Poster presented at the Association for Psychological Sciences, Washington, DC.

Terris, Ben. 2009. “Transfer Students Are Less Likely to Take Part in ‘High Impact’ Activities.” Chronicle of Higher Education, November 8. http://chronicle.com/article/Transfer-Students-Are-Less/49070.

Thurmond, Karen C. 2007. “Transfer Shock: Why is a Term Forty Years Old Still Relevant?” NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources. http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/

Wang, Shouhong. 2009. “Inquiry-Directed Organization of E-Portfolio Artifacts for Reflection.” International Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objectives 5: 421–33.

Yancey, Kathleen B. 2009. “Electronic Portfolios a Decade into the Twenty-First Century: What We Know, What We Need to Know.” Peer Review 11 (1): 28–32.

Karen Singer-Freeman is associate professor of psychology and associate director of the Baccalaureate and Beyond Program at Purchase College, State University of New York; Linda Bastone is associate professor and coordinator of psychology at Purchase College, State University of New York; and Joseph Skrivanek is professor of chemistry and director of the Baccalaureate and Beyond Program at Purchase College, State University of New York.

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