Author: Arguijo, Dan
Date published: May 13, 2010
It is clear that President Barack Obama's goal for the nation to have the world's largest share of college-educated adults by 2020 cannot be accomplished without community colleges. Nationally, nearly 50 percent of all those pursuing higher education enroll in two-year colleges, many for the convenience and cost-effectiveness. Despite these large numbers, less than 25 percent of community college students in Texas who aspire to a bachelor's degree ever transfer to a four-year institution. To improve this transfer rate, Houston Community College (HCC) and the University of Houston (UH) joined forces to ensure associate degree graduates experience a seamless transition into a baccalaureate program with the aid of joint admissions.
While the joint admissions agreement between HCC and UH is not new, it was necessary to revise the program and reacquaint students with it. The challenge was not just letting students know the program existed, but getting this information to them via media venues in which they participate. Between 2006 and 2009, only 17 students took advantage of this program. This demonstrated that traditional marketing methods were not working.
HCC and UH renewed the idea of intereducational partnerships. HCC, with more than 70,000 students, and UH, with nearly 37,000, are among the largest and most diverse institutions in Texas. It is no coincidence that this partnership has been strengthened and renewed by Dr. Mary S. Spangler, HCC chancellor, and Dr. Renu Khator, UH system chancellor. They have both encouraged and challenged their administrators to improve each institution's graduation rates by consolidating resources and expanding partnerships.
After revising the plan over the summer and early fall, these institutions launched the revamped HCC/UH Joint Admissions (JA) Program in November 2009 as a mechanism to offer students an easier transition from associate to bachelor's degree. The redesigned program garnered buy-in from all levels. Each chancellor understands her success is somewhat interdependent upon the other's. Khator, in her quest to move UH to Tier One status, understands the strategic importance that the "transfer student" will play in this endeavor. Conversely, in line with HCCs institutional mission, Spangler and her six college presidents are committed to expanding educational opportunities for their students. These administrators are keenly aware of the many social and economic benefits that come with the attainment of a bachelor's degree. These factors created an environment for bilateral support for the JA Program, particularly at the administrative level.
However, in the beginning of the new JA Program, this was not so much the case among some community college instructional and student services personnel. They were not initially convinced of the merits of the revamped program. Some considered the JA Program a university ploy designed to steal community college students prematurely. But through a series of discussions that included community college faculty, department chairs and even some deans, university staff began to change HCC faculty's misperception.
Also, the signing of an HCC/UH Reverse Transfer Agreement served as an additional safeguard. The agreement allows UH to send "earned credit" back to HCC so those students who transferred early may then be awarded an associate degree by HCC. Moreover, UH does not waive its application fee or grant guaranteed admissions until students have earned their associate degrees. UH transfer advisers are now housed full-time on HCC campuses. They guide HCC students through the transfer maze and encourage them to first complete their associate degree before transferring.
With the addition of on-site UH advising and the development of the Reverse Transfer agreement, appropriate university and community college stakeholders then agreed on the JA operational component. So the question then became, how do we market the JA Program to students? The HCC communications department and the UH Department of University Outreach were tapped to develop a marketing plan. In November 2009, two HCC colleges, with a combined enrollment of 33,000 students, were selected to pilot the program. An electronic campaign was launched that centered on e-mail messages to the students with supplemental website and Internet support. Within the first 48 hours the HCC/UH Joint Admissions Program received more than 224 student applications and inquiries. Within a week, there were 984 inquiries and applications.
Today, the program has 1,562 applicants, most of whom will transfer to UH this fall. Most of these students appear to be interested in earning bachelor's degrees in business, engineering, liberal arts and social sciences. Students who do not qualify for the JA Program are still eligible to participate in the UH Transfer Advising Program. With this mechanism in place, HCC students will have a support system between the two institutions to ensure they have every opportunity to successfully transfer and complete their educational goals of earning a bachelor's degree. Finally, HCC and UH are now discussing plans to extend this educational pipeline to include high schools. As the demand grows for educational institutions to be more accountable and increase graduation rates, they must look for positive ways to extend this vertical pipeline.
Dan Arguijo Jr. is chief communications officer for Houston Community College, and Dr. Lonnie Howard is director of University Outreach for the University of Houston.