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FSU@MassBay: Turning a New Leaf in Transfer Partnership Agreements

The EvoLLLution | FSU@MassBay: Turning a New Leaf in Transfer Partnership Agreements
Solidifying transfer pathways between two-year and four-year institutions is a massive priority for postsecondary leaders across the country, but one innovative partnership is bringing the bachelor’s program right onto the college campus.

Facilitating transfer to bachelor degree programs at four-year institutions is a major priority for two-year colleges—one that often competes with the push for associate’s degree attainment. At many institutions, this has led leaders to establish robust arrays of articulation agreements with universities across their state and beyond to ensure their students don’t have to repeat courses, but that’s often the most a college can impact the future success of their students once they transfer on. One community college, however, is working with its university partner and transfer students in a much more intimate way. Massachusetts Bay Community College (Mass Bay) and Framingham State University (FSU) recently launched the FSU@MassBay program, where transferring MassBay students will be able to enroll in two FSU degree programs offered at flexible times on the MassBay campus. In this interview, Lisa Slavin reflects on the thinking and work that went behind FSU@MassBay and shares advice for other institutional leaders considering innovative transfer programs of their own.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): What were some of the factors that led to the launch of the FSU@MassBay partnership?

Lisa Slavin (LS): Mass Bay and Framingham State University are natural partners and we have been for many years—mainly because of proximity—but also because Framingham State has been our largest receiver school in terms of transfer students.

The FSU@MassBay concept began to take shape after our collaboration on a joint college planning center that we share together with a grant. The Chief Academic Officers and the presidents had been getting together on a regular basis, so often that they talked about other ways our institutions could collaborate and what else they could offer our students—especially our non-traditional students.

We  wanted to be able to offer students who were very comfortable with Mass Bay and comfortable with a smaller setting the opportunity to earn their bachelor’s degree but in the comfort and setting they’re already familiar with.

The underlying question was how can we give the students the most affordable opportunity to earn their bachelor’s degree? We combined those two ideas and that’s when we came up with FSU@Mass Bay.

Evo: What did it take from Mass Bay’s team to get the program off the ground?

LS: Getting FSU@MassBay off the ground took a lot of collaboration and many meetings early on. We had very large meetings with deans and vice-presidents and then we broke out to a lot of very specific working groups. I think there was a lot discussed within those specific working groups—for example the admissions and enrollment folks working with the marketing team on both sides. I remember the meeting when we came up with the term FSU@MassBay. We were struggling to find a title for the initiative and so we decided to use the @ sign, very much like email, to join these two familiar names.

We looked at the data that showed the most popular majors that students were leaving Mass Bay with and ones that would fit nicely into FSU programs. It’s an evening program—a lot of our students take evening courses here at Mass Bay so this is ideally for the older, non-traditional student who might already be working or taking care of family members so they can continue this program in the evening. The other thing that we felt strongly about was providing students with a map. They want to know what’s next and what their two years are going to look like. So we spent a lot of time on curriculum and alignment and just really making sure that we could show the students a clear map.

Evo: From FSU’s perspective, what was their role in bringing FSU@MassBay to life?

LS: These students are FSU students, so once they meet the criteria here at Mass Bay and earn their associate’s degree, they work with the coordinator that works on behalf of FSU but spends a lot of time on our campus recruiting and working with these students. These students are really FSU students so no different than any other student who would apply to transfer. The coordinator is working with them in terms of advising, financial aid and ID cards but on our campus, so it’s almost like a satellite campus. It is their faculty members who will be teaching these upper-level bachelor classes here on our campus so that’s one major thing—they’re providing the curriculum, they’re providing the faculty members and they’re providing the funding if the student is eligible.

Evo: How does the partnership benefit Mass Bay?

LS: I really think it’s a mutual partnership, and it’s really about the students. The benefit to us is that our students are going on to finish their associate’s degrees with us so that helps us with completion. Then they’re transferring, and transfer rates are important to the industry and the college, and then we get to help our students by ushering them through the process because they’re on our campus and they’re working towards their bachelor’s degree. That’s the goal for a lot of our students when they come here. It’s such a great opportunity for us to make sure that our students are able to succeed and they’re doing it right here on our campus.

Evo: What advice do you have for other leaders on the two-year and four-year side of the table who might be looking to establish a similar partnership at their institution?

LS: I really think partnership and collaboration is what has to happen, especially given the changes and the demographics in the northeast, and the strong economy. All these great things are happening but when you’re looking at enrollment and ways in which students can earn their degrees, I think a lot of schools—and not just the schools but also the communities—need to be innovative. They need to be thinking about the future. Maybe 10 to 20 years ago students came here and got out in four years. We have data now that shows the majority of our students are part-time, the majority of our students are working and at the community college we have a lot of students with transfer credit. We’re trying to really think through the students’ perspective.

I think it’s also about getting the right people around the table and really listening to each other. The one thing about FSU is they understand our students and they appreciate the maturity and experience that transfer students bring, and because we are probably one of the largest schools sending transfer students to FSU, I think for them this is a no-brainer and they definitely wanted to partner with us because they know this is a great opportunity for the students.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about how Mass Bay is benefiting from launching this formal partnership with FSU and how you see it progressing over the years?

LS: I think it’s one of the more unique programs happening in the state right now. But I think in general I’m really happy with the state right now and all that they’re doing to promote pathways in general. Right now we have the Massachusetts Commonwealth Commitment, there’s a mass transfer program, you’re seeing more schools, cities and towns really thinking about free tuition programs. I’m starting to finally see action being taken on a lot of what some of us community colleges have been seeing for awhile. It’s great to have these strong four-year partners who are really just validating a degree pathway that starts at community college. For a long time, especially in the northeast, there has been a stigma attached to community college, but that is changing now. The value proposition alone is very appealing and four-year schools are realizing that transfer students make up a great talent pipeline for them. Whenever they can think about outside-the-box ways to work with the community colleges, they’re realizing it’s to their benefit and to the students’ benefit as well.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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