Creating a Home for Two-Year Students at Four-Year CollegesBarbara Kornegay | Vice President for Enrollment, University of Mount Olive
Increasing numbers of four-year institutions are looking to expand access to their programs for wider demographics of students, both for optics and out of necessity. Many of these universities are looking at the community college demographic as a strong option as students enrolled in two-year colleges have shown a clear interest in advancing their knowledge, but serving these students takes more than a minimalist transfer policy. In this interview, Barbara Kornegay sheds some light on what it takes to adequately serve two-year transfer students at a four-year institution across their entire lifecycle.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What are some of the reasons behind Mount Olive’s growing focus on supporting transfer of two-year college students?
Barbara Kornegay (BK): Our commitment to community college students goes back to our own history of being an independent two-year college until the 1980s and our geography, in that we’re surrounded by many community colleges in our region. In North Carolina, there are over 50 community colleges now and we collaborate closely with those nearest to us. We even have colleges contacting us from outside our region, from the western part of the state, asking whether we can collaborate.
Even through the times when community colleges and four-year public universities didn’t work together, Mount Olive focused on working with our community college partners to support transfers because we knew we needed upper-level students to make our enrollment goals. We are enrollment driven, and we have grown to the point where we have multiple regional locations where we offer accelerated programs for adults. That has extended our reach to the nearby community colleges as well. In order to articulate with these community colleges, we had to develop some special crosswalks between our institution and we have even written a couple of programs just to be sure that we accommodate their needs.
Evo: What have been some of the biggest challenges for the university in growing its focus on transfer facilitation?
BK: One challenge is to make sure you can offer a good match to the program at the community college. For instance, we had a community college visit us about two and a half years ago. They offered an agricultural business technology program but it would not match well with our business programs, even though we offered an agri-business degree. They went away from here thinking, “Where can our students transfer to and have their credit transfer over?” We sat down with the head of our agriculture division to figure out how we could expand our offerings in that space to include agricultural production. We created that program and, as a result, that same community college now has a crosswalk that brings all of their community college course hours into our program so students can transfer and graduate in four years.
Evo: What does it take to create an environment that’s going to support success for two-year transfer students?
BK: One thing you have to do is get your faculty on board so that they see the value of bringing in all the credits from the two-year degree and not requiring students to take more than two more years at the university. There are a few reasons for this. First, it’s a terrible denial of their previous learning. Second, if the course is equivalent to something we offer at the upper level, but at the community college it’s offered at the 200 level—even though it’s using the same book and aiming for the same outcomes—there’s no reason we can’t map to it.
This expanded acceptance of relevant transfer credits is especially important because you do not want community college students to be coming to you and using up all of their financial aid eligibility before they get a degree, because they probably won’t be able to afford to finish. We’re a private institution and we cost a lot more than community colleges so we have to think about economics for the student as well.
The major reason that has pushed us to use this alternative approach is that we are enrollment driven. We are a regional college and many of our students come to us as adults who have completed a degree or have been at a community college. Though that associate’s degree got them into the workforce initially, over the course of their career it may have become evident that earning a four-year degree could help them progress in their career. There is a whole market there of students that we need to be paying attention to who want the four year degree. We need to find a way to extend their previous learning as well as some experiential learning credit and provide a pathway to a four-year degree for them without it costing them all their financial aid and an arm and a leg.
Evo: What are some of the other issues that recent transfer students tend to experience when shifting from a two-year educational environment to a four-year environment?
BK: The affordability question is a big one because at least 50 percent of our students are Pell-eligible. We know they have high need and we have got to help them become comfortable with getting loans because we don’t offer any institutional scholarships to these students who come into accelerated, part-time or online programs. Now if they transfer directly into our daytime programs, we do have some scholarships available, but the financial challenges are the same. Most community college students are used to getting, in essence, a refund on day one of classes because they can get more in grants than the total cost of the program. We have to help them get over that hump, and one of the things we do for our accelerated programs is we have a full staff at each one of our locations. There’s someone from financial aid there to help them talk about how to make the program affordable.
Evo: What are some of the other things that your team is doing to help to your students acclimatize to the four-year environment and academically succeed?
BK: In addition to trying to be more “transfer friendly” we are also trying to work on student success activities in our programs. We have a student success program that integrates supplemental instruction (SI) into the general education courses as well as some of the introductory classes.
Another thing we’re doing is chasing down absences. I think community college students might have a slightly more relaxed attitude toward class attendance, but we take it very seriously here. We take attendance in every class, and if students are not in class we call them and find out what’s going on. We really do take a hands-on, one-on-one approach to absences and part of that’s because of federal aid. We really work on chasing down absences.
Another thing that we have done for a lot of our transfer students is connect them with relevant professional organizations and associations. Typically, these students have not really been involved in professional organizations so when they come to the Mount Olive campus, we try to get them into professional organizations that are related to their majors. For our agriculture program, for example, we try to get students involved in the Collegiate Future Farmers of America (CFFA). Involvement is really important.
Evo: How do you see this university continuing to work with local community colleges and what changes do you think are going to come down the pipeline to create better access to 2-year students?
BK: First thing I think is our faculty is getting to know the faculty on the community college campus, leading to closer relationships between our institutions. We have regular crosswalk conversations with two-year colleges that lead to deeper partnerships. Once a crosswalk is completed to both institutions’ satisfaction in two or three or four programs, then we will find an articulation agreement that just has to do with the AAS degree. We have signed about 15 to 20 of those already and have more that we’re lining up.
Author Perspective: Administrator