CSN, UNLV Want to Make College Accessible for Nevada Residents

Las Vegas Review-Journal
April 24, 2016

By Ana Ley

Nevadans denied admission to UNLV will soon be spared from a rejection letter. Instead, they’ll be asked to attend community college for a second chance to become a Rebel.

Through a newly crafted transfer program, state residents who are turned down by the university will be mailed notices encouraging them to sign up for classes at the College of Southern Nevada. Participants who enroll and fulfill a list of requirements will then be automatically transferred to UNLV.

“It’s a win-win, really, for both institutions,” said Juanita Fain, UNLV vice president for student affairs. “It will increase the number of students who receive their associate degree at CSN, and then they come to UNLV and complete their bachelor’s.”

The partnership aims to encourage more locals to seek postsecondary degrees by making it easier to switch between the schools. Administrators hope the deal will boost Southern Nevada’s weak graduation rates and help struggling applicants acclimate to a university. The agreement, which takes effect this fall, is hailed by school leaders as a way to motivate those who feel like college is out of reach.

CSN is widely considered a steppingstone for aspiring UNLV students who either struggle academically or can’t afford tuition there.

“(CSN) is just a good buffer,” said Barbara Ayarza, who transferred to UNLV after earning an associate’s degree from the community college in 2014 – more than two decades after dropping out of high school. She expects to graduate next month from UNLV with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. “It makes the process a lot easier so you don’t feel so defeated. Those of us who graduated from CSN, we walk onto campus totally confident.'”

Admission requirements won’t change much under the new program – like regular UNLV transfer applicants, participants need a 2.5 grade-point average to enroll. They’ll have to study full time and earn an associate’s degree from the community college to qualify.

While getting into UNLV won’t necessarily be any easier, administrators say the program will help participants navigate the admission process more smoothly and avoid paying a second $60 application fee.

“It also provides credentials so if they drop out during their junior year, they have something to fall back on,” CSN President Mike Richards said.

The agreement, signed in late March, also aims to make it simpler for students to transfer earned credits between the schools. CSN penned a similar deal with Nevada State College.

Education insiders and elected officials say students often complain that UNLV and UNR won’t accept certain credits despite a legislative mandate requiring the state’s universities to recognize all community college coursework. Established in 2005 through Assembly Bill 280, the rule requires both Nevada universities and NSC to consider every community college credit as coursework required for the student’s major or minor.

“This is a good step in the right direction,” said Clark County Commissioner and former Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, who co-sponsored the bill. “It’s just sad it’s happening … years later.”

Efforts to ensure credit transfers aren’t new – similar language was brought before Legislature in the mid-1990s, and two Republican assemblymen say they plan to draft a new proposal to tackle the problem when lawmakers convene in Carson City next year.

Some say those attempts don’t target the root of the problem: Neither CSN nor UNLV have enough employees to guide students toward a speedy graduation.

“We need more counselors or we need to do a much better job training our advisers to really ensure that CSN students are able to transfer to (a Nevada) four-year institution,” said Sondra Cosgrove, a social sciences professor at CSN. “You can have all these statutes and (agreements), but they don’t mean anything if a student doesn’t know about them.”

UNLV administrators plan to use the program as an alternative for students who don’t meet admission criteria but show graduation potential. In the past, the school has typically accepted some of those students as “special admits,” taking about 600 per academic year. The school has been criticized by Nevada’s higher education board for admitting so many of those students and apparently not offering them adequate support services – only about 9 percent of UNLV’s special admits graduate, according to school statistics.

Fain said the university plans to take fewer than half as many special admits this academic year.

“This is one of the best practices in terms of … provid(ing) an option for students an alternative,” said Juanita Chrysanthou, CSN vice president for student affairs. “We spell out for the student exactly what it would take to be able to attend UNLV.”

Meanwhile, the transfer agreement could alleviate recent enrollment declines that have slashed CSN’s funding. A 3.6 percent enrollment slump last fall compared with the previous year was partly blamed for a $1.8 million funding loss that led to sweeping cutbacks this academic year.

Officials at both schools hope the program will boost completion rates statewide. In Nevada, only 15 percent of students who began pursuing a bachelor’s degree in 2007 graduated within four years – that’s less than half the national average, according to data compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education. It has the fourth-lowest ranking in the country, following New Mexico, Alaska and the District of Columbia.

“It’s really an advantage for the student and the school,” Chrysanthou said. “It enhances accountability measures and our commitment to helping students succeed.”

Research indicates that the effort could yield good results. A 2014 study from the Community College Research Center shows those who transfer with a two-year degree are nearly 50 percent more likely to get a bachelor’s diploma within four years. They’re 22 percent more likely to earn one within six years.

Experts say transfer partnerships are becoming increasingly popular as schools open their doors to more students from disadvantaged and nontraditional backgrounds. For instance, the Minnesota State College and Universities system – a broad network made up of 31 institutions – honors dozens of agreements among its schools. The system mandates that any courses taken for an associate in science or an associate in fine arts degree transfer to at least one of its four-year universities.

But broader access also means student performance levels may drop if colleges are accepting more people who are unprepared for higher education.

“It’s a much more popular trend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everything is beautiful 365 days out of the year,” said Steven Roy Goodman, a Washington, D.C.-based education consultant who specializes in admissions. ” At the end of the day, I think they’re a positive thing for students. But if you want to look at graduation rates alone – it can negatively affect them if you’re pulling in students who aren’t as strong academically.”

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