Gregory Hamann, president of Linn-Benton Community College (LBCC) in Albany, Oregon, reported success toward the completion goal at the AACC conference. Through a 2012 Lumina grant and a state reverse transfer agreement in Oregon, the number of graduates increased by 400 statewide. Other innovative projects brought to scale include finding a new pathway via the Fifth-Year Program.
In 2011, Oregon’s legislature approved an education-reform plan known as “40-40-20” to raise student completion levels statewide. By 2025, Oregon aims to have 40 percent of students complete at least a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent complete an associate degree or a certificate in a skilled occupation, and 20 percent earn their high school diplomas.
Among Oregonians ages 25 to 34, the largest gap lies in the middle 40: Only 18 percent hold a community college degree or post-secondary certification, according to Oregon Learns.
Reverse-transfer program takes off
To address the middle 40 percent, Oregon’s community colleges and most of its four-year public institutions participated in the reverse transfer program.
“The idea was to allow students who had already transferred to have their transcripts evaluated to see if they could be awarded associate’s or other credentials,” says Katie Winder, LBCC’s academic dean for arts, social sciences and humanities, who also manages the robust dual-enrollment partnership between LBCC and Oregon State University (OSU), LBCC’s major transfer partner.
The plan to boost community college graduation rates, Winder says, offers psychological benefits for students of successfully completing a degree, coupled with its practical aspect in case they ultimately don’t finish the four-year degree, and has real value.
Most of the reverse transfer work is technological, such as figuring out how to digitize transfer articulation tables. Automation in the future will reduce costs, but the first set of transcripts was time-consuming to evaluate by hand.
Aligning associate and bachelor’s degrees
Perhaps the biggest positive outcome for LBCC’s current and future students emerged from an obstacle — namely, that LBCC student transcripts often weren’t well aligned with OSU requirements. Some classes, such as study skills, may have ultimately benefited students, but many choices were the result of haphazard or uninformed registration.
Through ongoing conversations with OSU, LBCC’s associate of science degree aligns far more efficiently: the 90 credits required for the associate now match degree requirements for the bachelor’s.
The result has been a “very different mindset” and a major shift in advising practices.
“The surprise for us was the alignment piece. It works best for schools that have one major partner. If you’re a small two-year institution that serves a community and they transfer to a dozen institutions, this is a much harder project,” Wilder says. “This meshed nicely with our dual enrollment. It seemed like a natural next step.”
Creating an innovative environment
LBCC has a number of programs targeting diverse students, such as the Fifth-Year Program, geared for high school students who are not ready for college early and who may not see themselves as college material.
“For students with low confidence, having a free year of college [helps them] make sure it’s for them,” says Carol McKiel, LBCC’s director of high school partnerships. Extra supports, such as more counselor contact and transporation, are built into the transitional year.
Fifth-year students have technically completed all their high school requirements, but the high school withholds the diploma; the state covers all their college costs. Last fall, more than 500 students participated in the Fifth-Year Program. The success of the program has led to some debate about how much further such an approach could or should scale before it depletes funds intended for K–12 students.
“This program works well,” McKiel says. “If we’re serious about getting rural students into college, we need to figure out how to continue.”