WCSU works with community colleges to widen associate degree access
Western’s pioneering reverse transfer agreements seek to boost student graduation success
DANBURY, CONN. — Students from three Connecticut community colleges who transfer to Western Connecticut State University now will receive a powerful boost on the path to graduation and employment with recently signed agreements that bring attainment of college degrees more easily within reach.
WCSU entered into agreements in March with Housatonic Community College, Norwalk Community College and Naugatuck Valley Community College that will enable Western students who began their college studies at a participating institution to apply course credits earned at Western toward completion of an associate degree awarded by the community college they attended. These reverse transfer agreements, patterned on similar arrangements between two-year and four-year higher education institutions in several states including Texas, Michigan and Kentucky, are designed to offer a pathway for students who transfer from a community college before graduation to complete credits for an associate degree even as they work toward attainment of a baccalaureate degree at Western.
“This is a win-win situation,” WCSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Jane McBride Gates observed. “These agreements will assist the community colleges in increasing their graduation rates. For the student, they will provide an important validation that he or she can successfully complete the requirements to earn an associate degree, which in turn will increase the likelihood that the student will continue on at Western to graduate with a baccalaureate degree.”
Gates noted the reverse transfer program reflects an awareness at Western that the profile of university enrollment today is far more diverse, with a dramatic rise in the number of students who do not fit the traditional model of entering college directly after high school graduation to pursue a bachelor’s degree. She said that universities in the past have not paid sufficient attention to the special needs of students who represent the first generation in their families to pursue a college education.
“When you have four long years ahead of you and you come from a family with no past experience in higher education, it can be a very challenging and overwhelming process,” she said. She anticipates that the new program will help to build academic performance and self-confidence among students who struggle with the transition from high school to college by shortening the steps to degree completion.
The new path to obtain an associate degree will ensure that students who transfer to Western from a participating community college can earn academic recognition for their cumulative course work at both institutions, providing foundations for future graduation and employment success, she remarked. “If you already have a degree, you will compete more successfully for jobs than if you enter the workforce without a degree,” she added.
Western’s agreements with Housatonic, Norwalk and Naugatuck Valley community colleges marked the first reverse transfer arrangements to be signed between two-year public higher education institutions and one of the four traditional public universities in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system. Naugatuck Valley previously signed a reverse transfer agreement in December with Charter Oak State College, a CSCU institution that offers online academic programs leading to a baccalaureate degree.
“As other comprehensive public universities in the state see what has happened here, we will see more reverse transfer agreements,” Gates observed. “This provides a pathway to graduation, and it is a valuable way for universities to reach out to the community colleges in the CSCU system.”
The Registrar’s Office at Western will track cumulative course credits for transfer students from the three community colleges to determine when their combined credits earned at the participating institutions and at Western reach the required minimum of 60 to qualify for review for an associate degree. Gates noted that students reaching this threshold will be formally notified that they are eligible to apply for an associate degree, and must sign to affirm their approval before Western proceeds with submission of the application and WCSU transcript to the community college to determine whether its requirements for award of an associate degree have been met.
Gates said the reverse transfer agreements should be viewed within the wider context of the substantial rise in transfer student enrollment at Western and the university’s continuing efforts to improve student retention and graduation rates. She noted that the number of transfer students from two- and four-year colleges who have been admitted to begin studies this fall at WCSU shows an impressive increase of 18 percent from the total of transfer students who enrolled at Western for the first time in fall 2013.
By affording another path for community college transfers to earn an associate degree, Western anticipates tangible results both in motivating students to continue their studies and in providing positive reinforcement to stay the course and graduate, Gates observed.
“If you already have your associate degree, the last two years required to complete your baccalaureate degree will not appear so daunting,” she said.
For more information, contact the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.