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Accelerating Toward a Credential

AUDIO | Accelerating Toward a Credential
As accelerated programming begins to gain popularity, one university in North Carolina has partnered with a local community college to create a program aimed at helping working adults earn both an associate’s and bachelor’s degree in three years’ time.

The following interview is with Evan Duff, interim provost and vice president of adult and professional studies at North Carolina Wesleyan College. The College recently formed a partnership with a community college to create a “Two Degrees in Three” program, where students can earn both their associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree in three years. In this interview, Duff sheds light on how this program was designed and developed, and explains how accelerated programs could be at the root of helping America achieve its higher education completion target.

1. What was the biggest challenge involved in developing this partnership?

Actually, it was more of programmatic changes from both institutions. So, we didn’t shorten either of the degrees and, basically, what we designed is the ability for an adult student to get two degrees in three years. … In the past, when a two-year school and a four-year school partnered — and they do a, typically, articulation agreement where the four-year school will accept so many credits — it’s built upon that premise. But where it goes a little bit further is, we chose a degree that was the best fit for our four-year degree. So, it’s the associate’s of applied science and business administration from the two-year college and then there’s our bachelor’s of science and business administration with the four-year college. …

Typically associate’s degrees have anywhere from 72 to 76 credit hours within their applied science degrees. And so we took the perfect 64 [credits]— because that’s the maximum amount of credit you can take from a two-year school and that’s pretty common across all colleges and universities… — that they would need and then added in an additional 60 they would need from us to get their 124 hours for a four-year degree.

And, what makes it ultimately unique is there are four courses in our curriculum at the 300 and 400-level that are very similar to the courses that the student would have had as a 100 and 200-level. So, what the two-year school has done is allowed them to take those classes with us and transfer them back to the two-year degree so that it saves them time.

So instead of taking 76 hours with the two-year school and then coming to get another 60 hours with us, they take 64 and 60, but transfer 12 hours back for that two-year degree. So, that’s how we can compress it, as well as having accelerated classes; eight weeks, one night a week and full-time study year-round through the summer. So that helps us compress it into that three years.

2. How long does it typically take an adult student who starts at a community college and transfers into a four-year institution to complete both degrees?

So, typically, you will see on your average student, if you look at average statistics at your school, you’re looking at anywhere from 2.5 to 3 years of your student taking that two-year degree at the community college.

A lot of that has to do with timing of classes, readiness to go into college-level English and math. And a lot of the community colleges — especially at North Carolina — a lot of them are doing weekend and online courses but very few, if any, are doing accelerated programming. So that was another part of this relationship that made it unique in that we helped them — because we were used to that accelerated model for our adult students — we helped them to design those eight-week modules for their courses.

So, typical community college students [complete in] 3.5 years and then transferring to a typical four-year school and based on the requirements they could take another 2 to 2.5 years. Now, for an adult student, you could be looking at a combined 5 to 6 years.

But with the way this format is structured, it is intense. We are very upfront with our students that it is not for everyone; it is for people who are moving up in their careers, they’re college ready, they want to do an accelerated model, they’re ready to be focused, they’re ready to do the intense work in between classes. And the way we structure it where they take two classes a term, every eight weeks, year-round, they can capture that 124 hours with our unique transfer back and forth; they can get both of those degrees in three years.

3. Do students need to take more classes than average to earn more credits per year? How was it designed to allow students to complete a two-year and a four-year degree in three years?

It’s not a watered-down product to get their four-year degree with us. … The way we’ve structured it, and because we do eight-week accelerated classes, they take 64 hours up-front, year-round, taking about 18 months with the two-year school and then they take an additional 60 hours with us, year-round, for another 18 or so months. And then 12 of our hours will be accepted and transferred back to the two-year school to give them 76 hours for their two-year degree. So, at the end of the day when they are at the finish line with all the credits taken, they will be granted a bachelor’s degree with us and they will have transferred hours back to their community college degree to get that applied science associate’s degree from their community college.

4. How do such accelerated programs improve higher education for adult learners?

Well, especially for adults, it’s pretty critical. [For] many of them … life has had to come first, social priorities have had to come first, jobs have had to come first and they haven’t had the opportunity, for any number of reasons, to go to school and be a traditional student and spend 16 weeks in classes and go to class all day. Life presented them a different option. And there’s many of them in the United States and certainly in North Carolina. So, it provides them with a unique opportunity to maintain their employment, to maintain their social responsibilities. Most of them obviously already have families, and they can continue their work, they can come to school at night and online in these accelerated formats to earn that degree, to move up the promotional ladder, to change careers if that’s their desire or, in many cases, to have self-fulfillment for getting that degree. Maybe they are high up in the company chain and this is just something that they needed for self-fulfillment. So, it helps the students attain something that they would never be able to obtain in a traditional format.

5. Is there anything you’d like to add about the value of putting together accelerated programs of this nature for adults?

I think, in general, it’s just extremely important — whether you’re a two-year, a four-year, a private, a public — it’s important for institutions to work together, to collaborate, to create programs that best suit the needs of their populations, whether they’re traditional students or adult students. And it’s these types of unique partnerships and arrangements that truly help move our society up in having students with a bachelor’s degree.

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