Exploring Academic Advisors' Perceptions in Supporting Vertical Transfer Students at a Private Nonprofit University in the Midwest: A Phenomenological Study through the Lens of a Transfer-Receptive Culture Framework

Date of Award

Fall 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership (EdD)

Committee Chair

Patrick Bennett

Committee Member

Valerie Storey

Committee Member

Yuerong Sweetland


Vertical transfer students are students who begin study at a two-year institution and transfer into a four-year institution (Kozeracki, 2001; Taylor & Jain, 2017). These students constituted 10% of the college student population in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics, 2020) in the fall 2020 semester. Concerningly, vertical transfer students have a six-year graduation rate of 16% compared to a six-year graduation rate of 65.6% for those who began study at a four-year institution (Shapiro et al., 2017). A contributing factor to lower six-year graduation rates is inadequate academic advising services for these students (Hood et al., 2009; Miller, 2013; Mu & Fosnacht, 2019; Walker & Okpala, 2017; Queen, 2020). This is especially problematic since academic advising is pivotal in integrating vertical transfer students into their receiving institution (Cepeda et al., 2021; Hood et al., 2009; Miller, 2013; Mu & Fosnacht, 2019; Queen, 2022; Schlossberg, 2013) by helping to alleviate the effects of the barriers they face (Chin-Newman & Shaw, 2013; Karandjeff et al., 2020; Miller et al., 2011; Nunez & Yoshimi, 2017; Walker & Okpala, 2017). Mu and Fosnacht (2019) also stated that research into academic advising often does not focus on how it functions for students who are not on the traditional collegiate path (starting at a four-year institution). Therefore, this study aims to explore the perceptions and lived experiences of academic advisors who work with vertical transfer students at a medium-sized primarily non-residential nonprofit private university located in the Midwestern United States. The exploration was accomplished by conducting a qualitative hermeneutical phenomenological study that consisted of semi-structured interviews with 10 academic advisors at the research site. The interview protocol consisted of questions related to the five elements of a transfer-receptive culture (Del Real Viramontes, 2020; Jain et al., 2011) and were conducted utilizing Microsoft Teams’ videoconferencing software. Thematic coding was completed on the interview transcripts utilizing Atlas.ti software for ease of organization. Participant responses show that navigating university processes, individualizing student experience, setting, pursuing, and achieving goals, and success measurement and evaluation are important to consider and focus on while supporting vertical transfer students. Additionally, recent research suggests inadequate, transactional, and non-targeted advising services; however, the findings of this study indicate that advisors are concerned with building relationships in order to target outreach and resources to the needs of transfer students. The findings indicate consistent supports that are provided and improvement suggestions for academic advising. Recommendations for future studies include studying different institutional types, including transfer-specific advisors, and utilizing alternative theoretical frameworks. Institutional recommendations include improving social life maintenance, developing relationship building skills, discussing more career advancement opportunities, and providing more community and family connection opportunities.