Manassas Journal Messenger | Jumping from two-year to four-year college

Students making the grade can transfer automatically

Info on Guaranteed Admission Agreements:  or

Most people will tell you there are no guarantees in life. Except for school advisers, who negotiate thousands of Guaranteed Admission Agreements on behalf of goal-oriented students attending Virginia community colleges.

“The (Guaranteed Admission) program grew out of the Higher Education Restructuring Act, which essentially requires universal transfer of credit from the two-year community college to the four-year institutions,” said Monty Sullivan, vice chancellor for academic services and research with the Virginia Community College System.

“The term ‘uniform’ is the critical piece. It says that credits will transfer from any one of Virginia’s 23 community colleges to the universities in similar fashion.”

At John Tyler Community College, roughly 40 percent of the student population is enrolled in transfer programs.

“The basic design of a Guaranteed Admission Agreement (sometimes called an ‘articulation agreement’) is that community college students who have earned their two-year associate of arts and sciences degree are guaranteed admission to a four-year college,” said Chris Pfautz, director of counseling and student success services at John Tyler Community College in Chester. “That’s providing they have met all the specific requirements that the public or private four-year institution has outlined for them.”

One of the requirements is meeting the school’s grade point average, which varies from institution to institution. The University of Virginia, for example, requires a 3.4; Longwood University, a 2.5; and The College of William and Mary, a 3.6.

“There’s a lot of responsibility on the student’s part to know the agreement and follow the requirements,” said Pfautz, “especially when it comes to grade point averages.”

What makes the Guaranteed Admission Agreements, which serve as an on-ramp to higher education, so popular is the fact that all parties involved win.

“To have a healthy community, it’s important to have healthy businesses,” said Dr. Gary Rhodes, president of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond. “To have healthy businesses, it’s important to have employees with the skills and knowledge to do the job that business requires.”

Perfect partnerships

Guaranteed Admission Agreements are all about partnerships. Students are in partnership with their chosen four-year college, while working to meet all the college transfer requirements. The four-year college is in partnership with the two-year community college, by guaranteeing that students who meet all general education and grade point average requirements will be admitted automatically into their four-year college in their junior year.

“Once a student graduates from the four-year institution, there’s nothing that indicates they spent their first two years at a community college,” said Rhodes, who remembers playing touch football with new community college transfers at his four-year Missouri alma mater.

An education bargain

Community college students are basically completing the first two years of their baccalaureate degree at one-third the cost of a four-year college. The general education courses at a four-year college are basically the same courses being taught at a two-year college.

“‘Biology’ is a biology class. ‘Sociology’ is a sociology class,” said Vicki Bruce, career, employment and transfer center specialist at Reynolds. “So why not complete those introductory classes at a competitively priced community college?”

The partnership positively impacts the pocketbook of students and parents, too. A semester (12 credits) at John Tyler Community College, for example, costs around $1,000. Twelve credits at the University of Virginia is roughly $7,000.

“Taxpayers also benefit because it costs the state less money to educate a student at a two-year institution than at a four-year institution,” said Pfautz.

Community colleges unite

“Our community college institutions have traditionally negotiated their own individual agreements with four-year institutions, but the Guaranteed Admission Agreements are a solid step forward,” said Vice Chancellor Sullivan. “You can see, by the list of significant university names associated with this program, that four-year institutions have acknowledged the credibility of Virginia’s community colleges.”

Vicki Bruce received her two-year associate’s degree from J. Sargeant Reynolds, and then graduated from U.Va., before the advent of smooth-sailing Guaranteed Admission Agreements. Today, there are 2,980 automatic transfer students at the school.

“This is an exciting time because even an average student, who does well, can get automatically admitted to the four-year college of their choice,” said Bruce. “The educational opportunities are definitely out there for students, if they want to take advantage of them.”

A question of youth

Many young students aren’t prepared to take on a four-year university, where classes can swell to 300 students, and a vibrant campus life can result in less student interaction with the learning environment.

While some students find out about the automatic transfer agreements on their own, others learn from their college adviser or through college transfer tours.

“Studies show that community college students and ‘native’ (four-year college) students perform basically the same,” said Robert S. Griffin, dean of student development at Rappahannock Community College in Glenns. “Our school hosts ‘Transfer Week’ or ‘Transfer Day’ events several times a year and takes student to educational fairs hosted at four-year colleges.”

Martha Michael, a student at J. Sargeant Reynolds, didn’t know whether she wanted to go to college when she got out of high school. But she kept an open mind while working her full-time job and enrolled in a few college courses.

“I decided to go full time to college because I loved being at J. Sargeant Reynolds so much,” said Michael, who went on a transfer tour to U.Va. in April. “The classes are small, the teachers are so attentive and the campus feels like a real community.”

Individual transfer agreements

Higher education is projected to take on a larger number of students as demographics grow and change. Certain career fields are so attractive to transfer students that separate program agreements have been created to meet the need.

Virginia Tech is a case in point. It has a separate Guaranteed Admission Agreement with John Tyler and its School of Engineering. Rappahannock also has a separate agreement with Virginia Tech’s School of Engineering and its Agriculture and Life Sciences program.

“The Guaranteed Admission Program is really a good thing for everybody the student, the parents and the taxpayers,” said Tyler’s Pfautz. “With the increasing cost of a quality college education, the community college is still a bargain.”

“High school students should look into the community college scene,” said Michael, who is one of eight student ambassadors at J. Sargeant Reynolds. “If you didn’t get accepted at the university that you wanted in high school, you still have a choice through the community college system. So don’t ignore it!”

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