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Future Shock

Fastlane U: Two Steps to Transfer Success

University Business, January 2013

When we entered college, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was already in place—guaranteeing access to K12 education regardless of race, ethnicity, or ability. Now, as we soon become eligible for Medicare, looking back, the pursuit of higher learning has taken on a very different trajectory.

Back then, most incoming college students completed their bachelor’s degree in four years—a straight shot from high school to college to career. That fast-track college-bound aspiration is no longer the path for the millennial student. Often sidelined by work and family obligations, a growing number of today’s students need to offset tuition and fees by earning a paycheck while pursuing their degree of choice.

Interestingly, the National Student Clearinghouse Snapshot Reports tells us that students who earn their associate’s degree at a community college are more likely to finish a baccalaureate program as opposed to going straight to the four-year program. In the wake of the inevitable maturation of so-called junior colleges, a new brand of community and technical college has hit the marketplace.

Take for example, Middlesex Community College in Bedford and Lowell, Mass. At Middlesex, a preponderance of students transfer to baccalaureate degree programs. From health science and biotechnology to nanotechnology and fire and safety technology, Middlesex is a feeder to top-notch Boston area private and public research universities and several liberal arts colleges.

Fast forward 20 years, a new two steps for transfer success philosophy has paved the way for innovative initiatives like the Pathways to Prosperity Project, a recent policy initiative spearheaded by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Paul Grogan, President and CEO of The Boston Foundation, articulates the scope of Pathways nicely. He says, “This important and timely [project] offers a compelling assessment of a growing skills gap threatening young people’s ability to achieve the American Dream. It stands as a sobering call to action, offering effective ideas for making American education an engine for opportunity once again.”

In sync with the goals of Pathways, Massachusetts’ Secretary of Education Paul Reville envisions a more fluid preschool through college system. From the Secretary of Education’s perch, we learned about how the public higher education system can better match talent with economic opportunity. More so than ever before, community and technical colleges are seen as the connective tissue between education and gainful employment.

State higher education policymakers and campus thought leaders now recognize that to move the needle on transfer success, these two-year institutions are well positioned to establish a strong and connected presence in the communities in which they serve. What this means is having close community and technical college linkages to public school systems, businesses, industries, and civic leaders.

Most recently, the campus-based community college baccalaureate completion option has become the coin of the realm for bachelor-bound students, and the DNA of business and professional career preparation in the several fields of information, science, engineering, and technology. In fact, the campus-based community college bachelor degree movement has, for over a decade, had its own professional association – The Community College Baccalaureate Association.

For us, wearing the varsity letter on a sweater for four years was all we knew. What we did envision, however, was a significant consolidation of the higher education sector, and in that respect, we were right. In an era where the debt burden of higher education continues to rise, two steps to transfer success is paving the way for a cost-effective and practical route toward baccalaureate capstone completion and sustainable gainful employment.