Community college partnerships offer new routes to bachelor's degrees

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cody Jonker always considered himself as a Hawkeye, and that didn’t change after he enrolled at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon.

It wasn’t just a matter of personal affinity. Even while at NICC, Jonker was virtually an official University of Iowa student—he’d signed on to the 2 Plus 2 Guaranteed Graduation Plan, which helps students transfer seamlessly from an Iowa community college to the university.

“It definitely helped keep down the costs,” says Jonker, an Orange City, Iowa, native majoring in psychology and sociology. “It also helped everything glide through more easily, with no worries about credits transferring.”

Focus on affordability

In advance of President Barack Obama's April 25 UI speech, Iowa Now presents a series of stories about opportunities that make an Iowa education possible for students from different backgrounds.

Different routes through higher ed

New UI options for transfer and nontraditional students alike—many of them built on partnerships with community colleges—recognize that different people take different routes through higher education, particularly when money is tight.

“The economics make these programs especially inviting,” says Michael Barron, assistant provost for enrollment management and executive director of admissions at the UI. “They help students plan up front and be more efficient in how they use their financial resources.”

Barron notes that transfer agreements between community colleges and the universities governed by Iowa’s Board of Regents—the UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa—go back to the early 1970s. Recent innovations expand the menu of options available to students.

“More than 10,000 Iowa students have benefited from all these agreements,” Barron says.

Card-carrying Hawkeyes

In the case of 2 Plus 2, the UI has developed partnerships with all 15 Iowa community colleges. Working with advisers from their community college and the university, students follow prescribed pathways through a series of academic checkpoints.

After two years, they earn an associate’s degree, then transfer into one of 24 different UI bachelor’s degree programs in liberal arts and sciences or business. All the while, they carry UI student ID cards and get access to university resources and events.

Caitlyn Lesan also found 2 Plus 2 a perfect option. She grew up in Creston, Iowa, home of Southwestern Community College, where she enrolled in the program.

portrait of Caitlyn Lesan
Business major Caitlyn Lesan says 2 Plus 2 helped prepare her for study at the UI—and saved her tuition dollars, too. Photo by Bill Adams.

“My high school was small, and I was used to the kind of environment where I knew everybody,” says Lesan, today a UI management and marketing major who’ll graduate in May. “I don’t know if I’d have been prepared for Iowa if I’d come here right away.”

2 Plus 2 was brand-new at Southwestern when Lesan signed on—she was among the first at her school to enroll. Her older sister had followed a similar route, attending the UI after earning an associate’s degree.

“She ran into a lot more issues transferring credits,” Lesan says. “With 2 Plus 2, I had so many classes out of the way that I could add a second major. The program has probably saved me a full year of study.”

Not every UI/community college partnership requires picking up and moving to Iowa City to complete a degree. The Division of Continuing Education offers distance-learning programs in tandem with most of the state’s community colleges.

Options include a self-paced Bachelor of Applied Studies for community college graduates, a Bachelor of Liberal Studies for students who’ve accumulated at least 60 credits from various institutions, and other undergraduate degrees in business, social work, and nursing. Returning students can also earn master’s degrees and certificates remotely.

Shared interest in success

Jon Weih, director of student services and student life at Kirkwood Community College’s Iowa City campus, says the relationship between his school and the UI even helps draw students from out of state.

“We recruit in the Chicago area and meet a lot of students who are thinking about the UI,” he says. “Probably about 90 percent of Chicago-area students who enroll at Kirkwood are looking to transfer to Iowa, and 2 Plus 2 is ideal for them.”

Owing the their geographic proximity, Weih notes, Kirkwood and the UI have forged all kinds of connections—the latest including a new Kirkwood Regional Center planned for the UI Research Park campus. Shared interest in seeing students succeed drives this cooperation.

“I get graduation invitations from students who are completing their programs at Iowa,” Weih says. “They tell me, ‘This was absolutely the best option for me—when I got to the UI, I was truly ready.’”