Melissa Laird

Graduation Semester and Year




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

First Advisor

O. Taryn Allen


This qualitative study fills a void in research by investigating the experiences of 10 vertical transfer students regarding perceptions of community college stigmatization. Prior studies have explored reasons for transfer student university attrition, and negative stereotyping has been found to have an adverse effect on various populations. However, no known research has been conducted on how transfer students perceive others view them in light of their community college attendance. Therefore, the purpose of this case study was to examine whether vertical transfer students believed there was a stigma connected to community college attendance, and, if so, how they described that stigma and the way it shaped their university experience. Through using a revised version of the Internalized Stigma Model (Lannin, Vogel, Brenner, & Tucker, 2015) as a framework, several key findings emerged. Participants did perceive a stigma was connected to community college attendance. They described encounters when others indicated transfers were unintelligent, and the academic rigor of community college was often viewed as inferior. Participants explained their transfer status was linked to them being stigmatized as old, poor, and as social outcasts. For some, secondary teachers and classmates sparked the initial stigmatization of community colleges. University faculty and classmates were additional sources of these perceptions. Participants also discussed their agency in combatting these views. Overall, perceptions of stigmatization influenced participants’ university experiences by compelling them to move quickly through their university time and advance to the next stage in life. Although the stigmatization made them feel like they were battling another test at the university, participants remained steadfast in their determination to beat the stigma. As a result of these findings, implications for future practice, research, theory, and policy arose. In particular, future studies should explore further development of the Community College Stigmatization Model, which was developed through this study.


Transfer students, Community college students, Stigmatization, Vertical transfer students, Community college


Education | Educational Leadership


Degree granted by The University of Texas at Arlington