North Carolina May Require Some College-Bound Students to Try Community College First

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Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on January 28, 2016 at 9:26 am
North Carolina May Require Some College-Bound Students to Try Community College First
North Carolina State Capitol

High student loan debt and low graduation rates among the bottom quartile of students is leading one state to rethink who can get into their four-year colleges and universities. Called the guaranteed admissions program, the idea is to send unprepared North Carolina students to a community college first, with the promise that they will have a spot at a four-year state school once they’ve earned an associates’ degree. With many college-bound students needing some degree of remediation, the thought is that community college will prepare them to better handle the rigors of obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

“There are kids that come to a university and incur debt, and, by and large, they’ve got nothing to show for it,” says North Carolina Rep. Craig Horn, chairman of the House Education Appropriations Committee. “The best way to help those students is to find an alternative to consider, not force or demand.”

Less-qualified students would go to community college first

Under the proposal, which is currently making the rounds in the general assembly, all of the University of North Carolina’s 16 universities would have to send some college-bound freshmen to community colleges, where they would gain the skills necessary to succeed at a state university. There is a requirement in the state’s 2015-2016 budget for universities and community colleges to come up with a plan. The program could be implemented for the 2017-2018 school year, although there isn’t a specific timeline.

“There’s no question plenty of the details need to be worked out,” says Horn. “Step number one is, let’s begin to work toward a plan that makes reasonable sense and saves everyone money, including the state.” Horn argues that the state offers grants and loans to a lot of the students who don’t graduate, wasting money. By sending some incoming freshmen to a community college to earn an associate’s degree or certification first, they will not only be more prepared mentally and academically, but they will also have something to show for their efforts – even if they don’t go on to pursue a four-year degree. “The idea is to help the kids out and improve the graduation rates,” says Horn.

Although the proposal is one of choice at this point, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of strategy at Cappex, isn’t so sure that schools won’t be forced to implement it once they come up with a plan.  Because it is part of the state budget, colleges that get funding from the state could be shut out from that money if they don’t comply, says Kantrowitz.

He says two of the major drivers behind this program are to cut costs and to improve the number of students that graduate from the state’s four-year colleges. “People who have a bachelor’s degree pay more than twice the federal income tax than those who graduate high school,” says Kantrowitz. “It’s not only an investment in that student but an investment in the future of the country.”

According to Jenna A. Robinson, president at The John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, the program could help to cut the state’s overall spending per student, since it spends about $13,500 per full-time university student and only $4,200 per full-time community college student. One way it could work, according to Robinson? If you apply to UNC Greensboro, for example, and you are right on the cusp in terms GPA requirements, you would go to a community college, do your two years there, and start at UNC Greensboro as a  junior. The community college would work with the university to get you ready.

Students lose the right to choose

One argument against the idea is that by forcing students to attend a community college first, the state is taking the choice away from the individual. Not to mention, not every community college in the state is going to be able to help all of the students. The proposal also doesn’t take into account students applying to schools that are harder to get into than others. They may be in the bottom at schools with stricter admissions standards, but their GPA could be high enough at another in-state school.

There’s also a concern that students will attend college out-of-state because of the requirement, driving enrollment down. It’s also seen by some as a backdoor approach to getting rid of professors as part of the state’s cost-cutting efforts, says Kantrowitz, pointing to the state of Wisconsin, which eliminated collective bargaining for its faculty.  Still, Horn bristles at the concerns. “I’m more interested in student outcomes,” says Horn. “I’m more interested in reducing student debt than paying professors $150,000 or more.”

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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