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Transfer students in computer science prove successful

By Erik Gomez, intern, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture

PULLMAN, Wash. – Computer science transfer students are as successful in their classes as those who originate in Washington State University’s program, according to a recent WSU retrospective longitudinal study.

The question of how well transfer students do is of increasing interest to educators as more students begin their college education at community colleges, especially in high-demand fields such as computer science.

Gebremedhin, Hauser (l-r)
Gebremedhin, Hauser (l-r)

In the article, published in ACM Inroads, the researchers, led by Assefaw Gebremedhin, assistant professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), assessed how well the transfer students did compared to their peers in a second-year computer science course using data from 2012 to 2016. The research team also included Carl Hauser, clinical associate EECS professor, and Helen Catanese, a computer science graduate student.

“This research project stemmed from a practical concern Hauser observed while serving as a member of the EECS curriculum committee,” said Gebremedhin. “Is the curriculum committee doing enough to make sure our transfer students aren’t at a disadvantage compared to native students?”

In the School of EECS, the curriculum committee reviews syllabi of computer science courses from other institutions for transfer credit and determines whether the topics covered and the coverage depth in transfer courses sufficiently match WSU courses.

As part of the study, the research team assessed student success in the third computer science course in the curriculum’s series, comparing students who had transferred one or both introductory computer science courses with those who had started their studies at WSU.

The researchers found that transfer students generally did as well as students who began their studies at WSU. The exception was those who transferred with C grades, who were found to be at a higher risk of failure.

“With our findings, we can recommend that C grade transfer students should perhaps be required to retake the prerequisite courses,” said Gebremedhin.  “Alternatively, it may be worthwhile to allocate resources for tutoring or other support services for those transferring with a C grade to help them succeed.”

In similar studies across the nation, the results haven’t been as positive as WSU’s computer science program, said Gebremedhin.

“Different disciplines, in different areas of the country showed much different results than ours.  A lot of the time, in those studies, the transfer students were at a disadvantage compared to native students,” said Gebremedhin.  “However, different factors play into the success of a student that aren’t always measured.”

The WSU research team also found that students who do well in the introductory computer science courses continued to do well in the next upper-level computer science course.

“There is something right happening at WSU,” said Gebremedhin. “Our transfer students are not hindered while adjusting at WSU. Those who do well, continue to do well.”



  • Tina Hilding, communications director, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, 509-335-5095,

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