The online magazine of the University of Texas System
How The University of Texas System is Helping Community College Students Advance and Excel
They gathered for the first time last November — higher education leaders across the state — for a roundtable discussion about community college transfer students and what they could do better to help these students reach their educational goals and fully realize their potential.
The meeting was the first step of a statewide initiative being led by The University of Texas System in partnership with the Texas Association of Community Colleges, and The Texas A&M University System, to increase the number of students who transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions. Working closely with the Legislature, the partners in the initiative aim to streamline policies and processes that will improve transfer rates.
According to a recent study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, 36 percent of students who enroll in a community college plan to transfer to a senior institution while only about half of them succeed. With community college students accounting for nearly half of the undergraduate students in the United States, the number of students who fall short of gaining a bachelor's degree — or higher — is startling to say the least.
UT System Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs David B. Prior says the newly launched Community College Initiative has come at a critical juncture. "Our state's economic future relies on our ability to provide access to higher education opportunities to an increasingly diverse and growing population of students. We have a real opportunity here to help students succeed. That goal is at the heart of this initiative."
"We are working to pinpoint why students are not transferring," says Martha Ellis, associate vice chancellor for Community College Partnerships at the UT System, "and then to change policies, procedures and processes so they can transfer. Through this partnership, we can address the issue systemically."
With more than 25 years of service in community colleges in Texas, Dr. Ellis understands the challenges students face firsthand. "What you find across two- and four-year campuses," she says, "are groups of faculty and staff working well together — in the registrars' and advisors' offices, for example, you have these pockets of excellence. What this initiative does is provide a strength of unity that allows those partnerships to become fully integrated across campuses."
Dr. Rey Garcia, president and chief executive officer of the Texas Association of Community Colleges, says the initiative offers a fresh approach to the issue, "It's a fairly intimate relationship between the UT System, Texas A&M and TACC. This is a chance to sit across the table and have a detailed and meaningful conversation about immediate steps we can take to help students succeed."
One critical way the Community College Initiative will facilitate that success is by ensuring students have easy access to the information and tools they need to make the transition to a senior institution. "There are a number of misconceptions," says Dr. Ellis, "about transferable credits, available funding, such as financial aid and scholarships — and about the actual costs of tuition at four-year institutions."
In the coming year, the partnership will launch a campaign to clear up some of these misconceptions by raising public awareness about community college transfer and the many options that are available to students across the state. Whether the community college student just graduated from the top 10 percent of their class or is a 35 year-old returning to college to change professions, transferring to a university to complete a baccalaureate degree or beyond needs to be a viable option.
Plans are also underway for a Web site that will serve as a one-stop destination for comprehensive information about transfer options. From financial aid calculators to scholarship and grant opportunities, to contact details for advisors and tuition estimators, the Web site will ensure students understand the key steps they need to take to get and stay on the path to a four-year school.
"Students need as much information as early in the process as possible," says Michael Washington, associate director of Admissions at The University of Texas at Austin. "If they could have something that could give them a general sense of what their tuition is going to look like that would be a real service to students and parents."
As community colleges overwhelmingly enroll minorities, low-income students and first-generation students, an accessible, comprehensive Web site, says Dr. Ellis, can be a critical tool for reaching students that may not realize the funding and support that's available to them.
"First-generation students do not always have the guidance they need to easily navigate the pipeline," says Dr. Ellis. "They are the first in their families to attend college, so they may not have family members who can tell them they need to talk to an advisor or fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Often, they don't even realize they are eligible for available funding."
In addition to outreach, the Community College Initiative is focusing on "reverse transfer," a policy that allows students to send credits earned at a four-year institution back to their community college. The accumulated credits would complete an associate's degree left unfinished when the student transferred to the senior institution.
"An associate's degree is important," says Rey Garcia, "It's a tipping point," referring to a study by David Prince of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and Davis Jenkins of the Community College Research Center that measured milestones that would guarantee student success.
In addition to bolstering a student's credentials — and further ensuring they achieve their goals — reverse transfer would also help Texas community colleges meet accountability measures.
Changing reverse transfer policies, increasing student financial aid, and providing incentive programs for both community colleges and four-year institutions, Dr. Ellis says, can strengthen partnerships that will increase transfer options for students, "Statistics show that community college students who pursue upper-division work are among the most successful to reach graduation. Our job is to help more students do just that."
— Karen Davidson
Martha Ellis, Associate Vice Chancellor for Community College Partnerships, UT System
At The University of Texas at San Antonio the Joint Undergraduate Matriculation Program (JUMP!), offers students who may not meet UT San Antonio's admission criteria an opportunity to begin their studies at an Alamo Community College campus to receive the academic support and advising they need to successfully transfer.
At The University of Texas at Dallas, the Comet Connection helps students and parents better estimate tuition costs by allowing transfer students to lock in their UT Dallas tuition rates and fees while they complete their core curriculum at a partnering community college. UT Dallas also provides academic excellence scholarships for high-performing transfer students with additional funds available to transfer students majoring in Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Software Engineering or Telecommunications.
At The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, the School of Health Professions offers two- and three-year programs that lead to a Bachelor of Science degree with seamless transfer from any community college — once a program's core curriculum has been met. Current offerings include Clinical Laboratory Science, Cytogenetic Technology, Cytotechnology, Molecular Genetic Technology, Radiation Therapy and Diagnostic Imaging with two-year degree programs in Histotechnology and Medical Dosimetry on the horizon.
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