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Shooting for the STARS: How Budget Cuts are Impacting Alabama’s Adult Students (Part 1)

Shooting for the STARS: How Budget Cuts are Impacting Alabama’s Adult Students (Part 1)
As students become increasingly mobile, state higher education coordinating boards become critical in helping students earn postsecondary credentials.
The following Q&A is with Keith Sessions, executive director of the Articulation and General Studies Committee (AGSC) and Statewide Transfer and Articulation Reporting System (STARS) in Alabama. The state recently cut funding to STARS, which aimed to develop pathways for students to earn postsecondary credentials. In this two-part Q&A, Sessions discusses the value of the STARS program for Alabama’s non-traditional students, and shares his thoughts on the impact the budget cuts have had on his ability to serve the state’s adults.

1. How does STARS support the higher education journey of non-traditional students?

STARS is a statewide transfer system (articulation program) in Alabama set up to guide prospective students through the process of transferring their course credits earned at our state-funded two-year colleges to our public universities. Two decades ago, students who chose to attend a community college in our state had no guarantees the course they were taking would actually transfer toward a four-year degree at institutions in our state. In 1994, the state legislators set out to remedy this process and created STARS. Since that time, more than 1 million students have been served. Many of them have not only transferred and gone on to receive four-year degrees, but a large number of them are now productive members of the workforce here in our state, in our region, in our country and around the world. We are proud of our successes. At the same time, we continue to strive to improve our system and the resources we provide transfer students as they navigate through the transfer process.

One group that has benefited from this program is those students who are now considered to be “non-traditional” type students or the “adult learner.” Although the definition of a non-traditional student has changed over the last few years, we believe we have helped students throughout our state – both traditional and non-traditional. Many students who attend local community colleges choose to do so for a variety of reasons: cost, convenience and flexibility of course offerings and schedules. Often, the non-traditional student will take one or two courses during a term or semester while continuing in their primary roles as financial providers for their families. Often, people choose to work full-time and attend school when it is convenient for them. The STARS Transfer Guide provides for students who choose to attend community college and take lighter loads. The STARS Transfer Guide has a four-year window. From the date the guide is obtained, the transfer student has four years to complete two years’ worth of courses and still transfer those credits without problems to our state universities. This contract flexibility allows students to work at a slower pace, possibly taking one or two courses, and at times that are more convenient for their busy schedules.

As student needs and demands continue to change, we must continue to evaluate and adjust our program outcomes to meet their needs for flexibility and transparency. We will continue to strive to meet the transfer needs of all types of students (traditional and non-traditional) who choose to attend our state community colleges before transferring into another four-year program in our state.

2. Over the past 10 years, as adult students have been enrolling in higher education in increasing numbers, how have the demands on STARS changed?

College student trends in Alabama are similar to other states. Today’s college student is much more mobile. They need flexibility. It has become more common for students to transfer multiple times or take courses from multiple institutions rather than staying at one institution and taking all their degree coursework at a single college or university. Therefore, articulation systems, transfer systems, admission requirements and general student transfer policies must remain flexible. Institutions and programs such as STARS must adjust our policies to meet the needs of the mobile student. We have seen these trends occur with both the traditional college student and the non-traditional student.

In the conclusion of this Q&A, Sessions will discuss the impact of the recent budget cuts on STARS’ ability to serve Alabama’s adult students. To read the final installment, please click here

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