I am biased that community colleges are among the most important institutions in our country today. No other institution provides a pathway to the American Dream for so many as community colleges. Yet we have an Achilles heel, the majority of our students do not achieve the goal they express in coming to our colleges. They fall off the pathway before reaching the end.
Case in point, data indicating that 80 percent of community college students express a goal of achieving a bachelor’s degree when enrolling, but less than 14 percent achieve that goal six years later. Pressure for us to do better increases as student debt mounts. Seventy percent of defaults occur among students who fail to complete their programs, a fate much more common to community college students than four-year college students.
How do we make sure that more students achieve their goals? One thing we can do is ensure that the majority of our transfer students’ earned credits transfer with them, and not just as elective credit. The Department of Education indicates that the average transfer student has to repeat about 13 credits that are not counted by the receiving college during the transfer process.
The problem is that it takes two to tango, and in many ways universities are the lead dance partners. Whether we like it or not, at the end of the day, universities hold the decision cards on transfer credit.
Fortunately for NOVA, we have remarkable affiliations with many of our four-year partners, relationships that are formalized in our Guaranteed Admission Partnerships with institutions. Last year, 72 percent of our students elected to transfer. We also share the biggest transfer pipeline in the nation with our partners at George Mason University, the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and a university committed to inclusion where over half of their entering students start as transfers, most of them being from NOVA.
What can we do along with our partners to address one of the most costly problems in higher education? A national problem that costs students and taxpayers money; approximately $6 billion in lost tuition costs, time; almost 182,000 annual years of college, and most importantly, lost dreams. A student with 50 percent or less of their credits transferring is 2.5 times less likely to graduate than one with more than 90 percent of their credits transferring.
Through our emerging work at NOVA on Informed Pathways, a NOVA pathway brand coined at the recent PUP conference, perhaps we are in a unique position to guarantee 100 percent of credits transferring, including those that count for general education credit. We would need to work with each of our primary partners willing to tango, to ensure that our students who follow informed pathways are guaranteed to transfer with full junior status and not have to backtrack to retake any courses – Guaranteed Transfer partners and Guaranteed Admissions partners.
We are on the verge of making America’s best higher education partnership even stronger through what George Mason University President, Angel Cabrera, coined “Fast Lanes”, where almost a third of our students transfer. We will be work collectively over the next several months to fill in the meaning of our fast lanes partnership, but what it can mean in addition to guaranteed transfer admissions is: 1) joint admissions agreements like the new one reached on mechanical engineering; 2) degree completion partnerships through the integration of our distance education efforts; 3) reverse transfer where students who transfer without a NOVA degree can transfer their credits back for associate degree completion; and 4) creation of an “express college” where students sharing common degree objectives can enroll in programs and move forward as a cohort.
A majority of our students who transfer do not complete their associate degree or even make it to their second year. Many of our students who leave early indicate that it’s because they are unsure whether the courses they are taking will be required and accepted by their transfer college. We have a unique opportunity to remove this doubt for a significant number of students and help them achieve their ultimate goal of earning a bachelor’s degree by “paving our transfer pipelines” through Informed Pathways.