Transitioning from a high school
environment to a college campus is never easy, but for some students, the change is quite nearly impossible. The difficulties faced can be due to a number of factors, ranging from little family support and inexperience in the academic realm to simply not enough money to fund higher education.
However, these at-risk students can successfully obtain a degree, as one community college has found. Northern Virginia Community College
, more commonly known as NOVA, has instituted a new program to help non-traditional and at-risk students achieve academic success and even go on to earn a four-year degree
The Importance of Community College
In the past, community colleges have struggled with a student body facing a number of insurmountable hurdles, making it difficult for students to use the colleges as a springboard to a successful professional life. Students who choose community college may come from challenging backgrounds and are loaded with financial stresses and family obligations
. Many require some type of remedial coursework
before they are adequately prepared for the typical college grind. Community colleges have also traditionally lacked the resources to reward students for positive academic achievement.
Last year, President Obama
called on community colleges to become a key player in assisting our country out of its current economic slump. At that time, he unveiled the American Graduation Initiative, which is a $12 billion, 10-year plan to invest in community colleges. Many people, like President Obama, see community colleges as an important resource in training and retraining individuals to get everyone back to work and the economy thriving once again.
Pathway to the Baccalaureate
However, NOVA was ahead of President Obama in creating an initiative to help community college students succeed. Pathway to the Baccalaureate was designed by a former college student who understands all too well the challenges facing many high-risk students today.
Kerin Hilker-Balkissoon grew up in an apartment complex not far from NOVA. When she began her studies at the University of Massachusetts, she nearly flunked out of school after just one semester. Hilker-Balkissoon realized that college students have a difficult transition to make, and she created the Pathway to the Baccalaureate program to help students overcome many of the hurdles she faced during that first year of higher education.
Pathway to the Baccalaureate is a highly structured program designed to help students with the transition between high school and college. It covers everything from basic academic issues, such as how to develop good study skills, to step-by-step instruction on how to register for classes and apply for financial aid
. The program follows a number of steps to success:
- Eight transition counselors head to area high schools in search of students who show potential for academic success, but lack the necessary support system to achieve it. Nearly 80% of students recruited are accepted into the program – as long as they express a desire to graduate from NOVA and move into a four-year college.
- Students accepted into the program get to know their counselors through a variety of teaching and social events. These counselors help students navigate the sometimes complex maze of college registration, scheduling and financial aid applications.
- Once enrolled at NOVA, students are matched with retention counselors who prepare students for academic success on a variety of levels. Counselors also track students' progress and are notified if any student falls below a C-grade average.
- Students are also enrolled in a College Success Skills class that teaches them everything from how to take notes during class to time management and making good choices.
- During the program, students are prepared for the next big challenge of enrolling in a traditional university to earn a four-year degree. Students who successfully graduate from the Pathway to the Baccalaureate program may enroll in a college of their choice, and many choose GMU, Virginia Tech or a wealth of other universities nearby.
Success rates for Pathway to the Baccalaureate thus far are impressive, with most students involved in Pathway achieving better academic success than other students.
For example, according to statistics in a report
on Pathway to the Baccalaureate, 72.9% of students in the program during the 2006-2007 school year earned a GPA higher than 2.0 vs. 62.5% of the students who were not involved in the program. During the same academic year, 17.2% of the Pathway students had graduated
within three years, while only 12.1% of students outside the program had graduated within the same time frame.
There are many reasons to choose community college over a traditional four-year university. According to College Board
, some of those reasons might include lack of funds, uncertainty about a field of study, or a lower GPA. Unfortunately, these same factors can act as obstacles that get in the way of a successful academic career.
The good news is that programs like Pathway to the Baccalaureate offer students the support they need to succeed in school and then go on to succeed in their professional lives.