Posted on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Editor’s Note: this blog post is excerpted from a longer essay written by Dr. Scott Ralls, president Northern Virginia Community College, and Dr. Charles Errico, professor and chair of the VCCS Chancellor’s Faculty Advisory Committee. To see the longer article, click here. 

To boost student success as associate degree holders seek to transfer to four-year institutions, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) established partnerships with Old Dominion University, Radford, Marymount, the University of Mary Washington, and George Mason University.
The great majority of NOVA students who desire a bachelor’s degree will transfer to one of those five universities.

These five partnerships establish clear curricular guidelines guaranteeing that students who follow a prescribed, informed pathway at NOVA will have all of their courses transfer as requirements, not electives. Thus, there is an incentive to complete their associate’s degree, save money, and graduate sooner.

Governor Ralph Northam (left) greets VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois in Fairfax, Va. October 29 as NOVA and GMU celebrated new support for their ADVANCE transfer program.

Of particular note: NOVA’s ADVANCE partnership with GMU.
Students are jointly admitted and enjoy access to resources at both NOVA and GMU. The ADVANCE partnership provides success coaches who streamline students along curricular pathways that ensure a seamless transition from the associate to bachelor degree programs.

This could not have happened without the collegial relationship between GMU’s president Angel Cabrera and NOVA president Scott Ralls, combined with discipline-specific dialogues between the faculties at the two institutions.

This fall, GMU and NOVA welcomed the first contingent of ADVANCE students featuring 129 students enrolled across 21 majors. More than 200 additional ADVANCE students are expected to enroll in the ADVANCE program in the spring.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was on hand in late October when NOVA and GMU celebrated new corporate support for the ADVANCE program.
“ADVANCE is one of the most innovative ideas in higher education today,” said Northam. “George Mason University and NOVA have demonstrated that through collaboration and partnership, we can empower individuals, strengthen our workforce and create a Virginia that works better for all of its citizens.”

Left to right: NOVA Pres. Scott Ralls, Gabrielle Sulkowski (liaison to George Mason University), Davien Armstrong (liaison to Radford University), Andrea Luna (liaison to the University of Mary Washington), NOVA Prof. Charles Errico.

Such progress does not come easily. NOVA knows it needs to improve advising, the most frequent criticism it receives in student surveys. Teaching faculty and counselors need to work better as a team to help students make early decisions on curricular pathways and transfer destinations.

And, since students trust the advice of their peers, NOVA is experimenting with a creative new initiative.

NOVA has built into its budget student alumni liaisons at each of its partnership universities. These students provide advice to potential transfers and make them feel welcome once they leave the small community college nest and fly to the larger, and frequently more intimidating, university environment. They also establish a community of NOVA graduates at each university that maintains ties to the college that got them started on their career path.

Imbedding NOVA graduates at its transfer institutions represents a new idea and recognition that the best ambassadors of the community college are its successful students. Austin Burns, the alumni liaison at Radford University, is “excited about being able to take charge, connect people with each other, and with the resources to help them along their journey.”
The clear winners of all these efforts are the students.'

Jim Babb

Jim Babb works for Virginia's Community Colleges in the Office of Strategic Communications.

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