Private, independent four-year colleges seeking to expand their enrollment are increasingly stepping up efforts to recruit community college transfers.
“These transfer agreements are really a win-win arrangement,” says Glenn DuBois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). “Students and families gain an additional higher education pathway to consider,” while the private college gains “hardworking students who’ve experienced academic success and strive for more.”
The number of such agreements is increasing, both on a statewide and one-to-one basis, says Philip Katz, director of projects at the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), who notes CIC members are facing more competition for fewer students.
Independent four-year institutions see these agreements as “an opportunity to enroll an additional population of students, especially at a time when the ranks of traditionally aged high school graduates are shrinking,” Katz says.
Also, he adds, “some of our members are feeling pressure because liberal arts doesn’t seem to be as appealing to people.”
In Minnesota, the state’s Private College Council encouraged its members to host campus events for transfers when community colleges are closed on Veterans Day and Presidents’ Day. Six of them invited community college students on November 12, with opportunities to sit in on a class, take a tour, and meet admissions and financial aid staff.
A statewide agreement
Leaders of VCCS and Randolph-Macon College (R-MC) signed an agreement two weeks ago to create a seamless transition from all of the state’s community colleges to a liberal arts bachelor’s degree program at the private college.
VCCS already has more than 36 articulation agreements with public and private colleges in the state, while many community colleges have one-to-one arrangements with four-year institutions.
The recent accord builds on a longstanding agreement between Randolph Macon and Reynolds Community College. During the past two years, more than 230 Reynolds graduates transferred to R-MC, says Jeff Kraus, assistant vice chancellor for strategic communications at VCCS.
Under the new agreement, students who complete an associate degree from a transfer-oriented program at any of the 23 community colleges in the state system and have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 are guaranteed admission to R-MC. All of their credits will transfer.
R-MC agreed to waive its application fee and provide scholarships to all transfer students ranging from $14,000 to $21,000, depending on the student’s GPA. Students will also be eligible for a two-year college transfer grant from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
For VCCS, the agreement aligns with “our mission to provide affordable access,” Kraus says. Students who complete the first two years of a four-year education at a community college will realize significant savings. For people who do well in high school but can’t afford a four-year college, “this is a great opportunity for them to pursue their dreams.”
In Tennessee, the presidents of Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC) and King University last month announced a dual admissions program. PSCC, the largest community college in the state with some 11,000 students, already has similar agreements with state universities.
King is a small Christian school with a campus across the street from PSCC that already draws many students from the community college, says Beth Norton, PSCC’s assistant vice president for academic affairs. PSCC students interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree at King who sign a commitment to transfer, complete 60 credits, maintain a 2.0 GPA, and complete an associate of arts, associate of science or associate of science in teaching degree are guaranteed admission at King without losing credits.
The two colleges are still working on a transfer path for students who earn an associate of applied science degree.
Students can join the dual-enrollment program after earning 30 credits, Norton says. They would then meet with advisors at both colleges to develop a curriculum leading to a bachelor’s degree.
Requiring students to formally state their intention to transfer helps students avoid earning unnecessary credits and increases their chances of actually transferring and completing a degree, Norton says.
Both the University of Mississippi and Blue Mountain College, a Christian four-year institution, have offices at Northeast Mississippi Community College (NEMCC), where staff talk to students about their academic programs and campus environments.
“It’s nice to have that personal contact when students are making a decision about transferring,” says Michelle Baragona, vice president of instruction at NEMCC.
While both institutions offer a similar educational experience and tuition rate, most transfer students choose Blue Mountain over Ole Miss, because it’s closer to home and it’s easier to get a scholarship, Baragona says.
“We really go after transfers,” says Sharon Ball Enzor, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Blue Mountain College. About 150 of the 640 students currently enrolled at Blue Mountain started at a community college.
Most of them transferred from NEMCC or Itawamba Community College, although Blue Mountain has articulation agreements with eight community colleges in Mississippi.
“We have had very good relationships with our community colleges. Our president works closely with the presidents of these institutions, and our faculty meets with their faculty,” Enzor says. Popular programs for transfer students include business, elementary education, and biology.
In an area where only 20 percent of the population has a college degree and students only need a minimal passing score on the ACT, community college transfers tend to have a good success rate, she says.
Most transfer students don’t lose any credits, as Blue Mountain recently expanded the number of credit hours it accepts from 64 to 70. Blue Mountain also allows reverse transfer credits, so students can earn an associate degree if they leave a community college before graduating.
This effort is part of a growth strategy at Blue Mountain, which had been a women-only college until 12 years ago. The college also expanded its athletic offerings – including competitive bass fishing – and started instrumental music and drama programs with the goal of attracting more transfers. Enrollment is up 40 percent since 2016.
Online and offsite opportunities
Unity College, a private four-year institution in Maine, is stepping up its efforts to attract community college transfers from all over the country, reports President Melik Peter Khoury. About 30 percent of the students at Unity are transfers from community colleges or other state schools.
Unity specializes in environmental studies, including biology and adventure tourism, with sustainability science undergirding its liberal arts and business programs.
While Unity has worked with community colleges for some time, its new efforts – aimed at students who can’t relocate to Maine – include an online program and a plan to reach out to community colleges in five states to gauge their interest in hosting Unity courses on their campuses.
“We have a very good retention rate with community college transfers. They tend to do a little better than students who start as freshmen,” Khoury says. “One of the things transfer students bring to Unity is a diverse perspective in the classroom.”
Driven to succeed
The University of Mount Olive, a private institution in North Carolina founded by the Convention of Free Will Baptists, also actively recruits transfer students from community colleges. Among Mount Olive’s total enrollment of about 3,000 students, 1,651 have some community college credit, says Barbara Kornegay, vice president for enrollment.
Mount Olive started out as a two-year college and when it transformed itself into a four-year institution in the 1980s, “we visited many nearby community colleges to tell them our doors will be open to you,” Kornegay says.
In 2015, an existing articulation agreement was updated to include all institutions in the North Carolina Community College System and all independent North Carolina colleges and universities. Anyone with an AA or AS degree and a 2.0 GPA and a “C” or better in all courses can transfer without losing any credits.
Mount Olive also has articulation agreements with 20 to 25 community colleges to accept certain transfer students with associate degrees in applied science in areas where Mount Olive offers a bachelor’s degree.
Faculty from Mount Olive sit down with the faculty at community colleges to see how the curriculum at both institutions fits together to create a pathway for their graduates, Kornegay says. “We look at every transcript” to determine what credits will be accepted.
Many students with associate degrees in nursing take online courses at Mount Olive to complete a four-year degree while working as registered nurses, she says. Other popular programs for transfer students include early childhood education, criminal justice and agriculture.
Mount Olive doesn’t have data on completion rates for transfer students, but Kornegay says, “my guess is if you’ve already got a two-year degree, we know you’re going to be a good student. These students are really motivated.”