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Learners no longer follow a single pathway to credential completion and transfer is becoming an increasingly common method for students to pursue a degree. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, 38% of students transfer institutions en route to a bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, this can often lead to a loss of credits and increased costs. And, for many learners, their decision to transfer can ultimately lead to them earning neither an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree for their effort and investment.
The 3+1 model provides an alternative to this reality. Under this model, a student earns their associate’s degree at a community college, stays for an extra year at the college as they take university-level coursework, then transfer in their final year to the university to complete their bachelor’s degree. These conscious pathways, designed by both the community college and university, minimize the risks associated with transfer and set learners up for success.
In this interview, Merodie Hancock and David Stout discuss the 3+1 partnership they established between Thomas Edison State University (TESU) and Brookdale Community College, and reflect on the need for these partnerships more broadly.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): For TESU, why is it important to build strong partnerships with local two-year colleges?
Merodie A. Hancock (MH): As a public institution serving the needs of adults in New Jersey, it is incumbent on Thomas Edison State University to forge strong partnerships with 2-year and 4-year higher education institutions both in N.J. and elsewhere in the U.S. In the past we’ve seen students start and finish their education in a single location. That is not so much the case today. Students are moving between and among institutions with much greater fluidity and it’s our job to ensure that the pathways are optimized for them, to meet them where they are. The 3+1 system-wide program is intended to provide a foundation for continued program pathway alignment and to afford N.J.’s community college graduates a step up and in the right direction toward completing their bachelor’s degree.
Because our programs are online, students can easily align the fourth year of study into their professional and personal commitments. Our respective institutions can be confident that we are promoting associate and baccalaureate degree completion while progressing the New Jersey goal of 65% degree attainment by 2025, with the added benefit of keeping students in New Jersey. We see this as a three-way win for our students, our institutions and our state.
Evo: For Brookdale, how does the college and its students benefit from robust partnerships with four-year universities?
David Stout (DS): It’s important for all community colleges to develop and to maintain strong relationships with four-year institutions. Brookdale’s mission is to provide access to high-quality and affordable educational pathways. With many of our students transferring to colleges and universities to complete their undergraduate degrees, it’s essential to maintain strong partnerships.
While we have a number of articulation agreements with four-year institutions covering a variety of majors and programs that provide the way for many of our students to gain the necessary credentials to start or change careers without incurring significant debt, this new 3+1 partnership provides additional options for our students.
All of these partnerships enable students to take advantage of the resources of each institution in and outside the classroom in achieving their personal and professional goals
Evo: Respectively, why did TESU and Brookdale stand out as an ideal collaborator?
DS: Thomas Edison State University’s history and leadership role in developing online program for adults seeking their undergraduate degrees made TESU an ideal partner for us.
MH: Brookdale was an early adopter of the 3+1 program and showed interest and enthusiasm early on as well as being one of the first to recognize quickly the merits of this program. Coupling the value of the community college degree, such as Brookdale’s, with the 3+1 program allows students to leverage the community college value for one additional year and then complete their bachelor’s degree at TESU. Students will be hard pressed to find a more economical and quality option in modern higher education.
While Brookdale has a number of partnerships that support local students in close proximity to where they live and work, this partnership allows us to meet students wherever they go to take a new job, move or serve in the military without interrupting their education.
Evo: What were some of the roadblocks you each had to overcome in launching this 3+1 partnership, and how did you get past them?
DS: From the outset, we each shared the same objective in identifying how we could partner to better serve New Jersey students. We needed to map out our respective programs in terms of curricula and course offerings to ensure the transition for students seeking these degrees.
MH: Degree programs are messy. No two are exactly alike and even within the regulated general education arena, there exists great variability. The expertise that TESU brings to the table is in matching equivalencies between and among schools and curriculum. It’s not hyperbolic to say that our academic experts sat down with school catalogs for hours delving deeply into student learning outcomes, syllabi, and more when aligning programs and trying to find a solution that would work for all 18 community colleges in NJ. Creating a seamless application pathway and communicating the benefit of this program to our students remains of paramount importance.
Additionally, we had to address financial aid and how it could be administered through this partnership. Students are able to use a third year of financial aid at the community college before transferring and then receive the fourth year of financial aid at TESU. This program is designed to optimize a pathway to a degree that ensures that financial aid is used efficiently, thus reducing the need for out-of-pocket or student loan debt.
Evo: What role must senior institutional leaders play in making these kinds of partnerships more common nationwide?
DS: It’s essential for institutional leaders to develop more programs like this. We all know the escalating costs of higher education in our nation. An undergraduate degree is the prerequisite for entry into so many careers and studies have shown the increased lifetime earning power of individuals with college degrees. Without an affordable path, earning a degree is out of the reach of many individuals. Solid academic programs combined with an affordable path are career and life-changers.
MH: Senior institutional leaders must promote a common thinking with respect to program design which may in turn allow more pathways to be developed and provide students with more opportunities. Boutique and unique programs play a major role in higher education, however, they tend to serve the minority of students.
With this program, we focused on three degrees that are relevant to the majority of community college students. The three programs—the Bachelor of Arts with an area of study in Liberal Studies; the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with an area of study in General Management; and the Bachelor of Science with an area of study in Technical Studies—provide pathways to employer-recognized and industry relevant credentials.
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Author Perspective: Administrator, Community College