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Business Officer Magazine
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Private Institution Transfer Tactics

Although they may first have to overcome a reputation for pricey tuitions, private institutions can compete effectively for top community college students.

By Margo Vanover Porter

“Transfer students are an up-and-coming hot commodity,” says Mary Reinhardt, associate director of transfer admissions, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. “Because of the economy, more students are looking at staying closer to home to begin their education. We value the foundation they are building at community colleges and want to commend them and encourage them to bring those transfer credits into account toward a degree at Baylor.”

With community colleges bursting at the seams because of climbing enrollments, students need a place to go to complete their bachelor degrees. Baylor, a private institution with a 2009 undergraduate enrollment of more than 12,000 students, has two articulation agreements with local community colleges and annually accepts about 600 transfer students ranging from freshmen to seniors. “The agreements are a way to say, 'We would love to have your students here on our campus,'” Reinhardt says. “Often people think that because we are a private university, we are way too expensive, and they can't afford us. It comes down to having a personal conversation and educating them about what we have to offer.” (To read about articulation agreements for public institutions, see "Matriculating Mix and Match" in the September 2010 issue of Business Officer.)

Reinhardt explains that about 85 percent of students attending Baylor receive some type of financial assistance. “We are very in tune with being competitive as a private university with our state universities. When we review our students, we look at each one individually. To reward those who do well in the community college, our transfer scholarships are based on their transfer grade point averages (GPA). Any need-based financial aid is based on personal circumstances. We take all of that into consideration.”

Three or four years ago, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts, received a grant through the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to recruit community college students. Since then, the number of transfer students has increased from a handful to about 35. “The vast majority come from low-income, first-generation families,” says Thomas H. Parker, dean of admission and financial aid. “That's very appealing to us. It's part of the spirit of the grant. We were not out there combing community colleges looking for fee-paying students. We were definitely looking for low-income kids.”

These atypical students enrich classroom discussions, Parker points out. He gives the example of two veterans who served in Iraq who now share real-life scenarios that can't compare to a textbook's facts and figures. “They have a different perspective on education and a different set of life experiences,” he says, adding that the average GPA of community college students who transfer to Amherst is 3.5. “They've done extremely well academically.”

Diversity Is a Draw

An inclusive philosophy is just one of the reasons that Holy Names University in Oakland, California, reaches out to transfer students. “We've been known for our diversity for quite a while,” says Lizbeth Martin, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty. “The students who come here tell us that it's one of the real draws. It's very much a part of their education, because they can learn from so many different backgrounds and cultures.”

Holy Names maintains articulation agreements with about half a dozen community colleges. “As part of our mission and strategic plan, we are committed to serving the community,” Martin explains. “Reaching out to community colleges is a primary way to meet local needs, and we encourage those students to matriculate to finish their degrees here. One of our goals is to prepare students to be effective citizens and lifelong learners. That means we educate the whole student, the whole person.”

The institution sends recruiters to community college campuses for fair nights, and the new assistant dean for academic affairs makes personal visits to campuses to meet with articulation officers. “Many students in community colleges have thought about only public institutions to complete their degrees,” Martin says. “We want to show them we can be as affordable as the public institutions.”

She points out that Holy Names can usually compete with state tuition and fees. “Interestingly enough, students who have the most need are probably the students we can help the most because many of them qualify for Pell Grants and Cal Grants,” she says. “We are usually able to essentially match, if not literally match, a given student's need. At least 90 percent of our students have some form of aid.”

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.