by Robin Rose Parker and Elizabeth Gillooly
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam joined faculty, staff and students from Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and George Mason University (Mason) on October 29 to celebrate the launch of ADVANCE, the NOVA-Mason partnership that streamlines the transfer process for community college students who want to earn a four-year degree.
More than 300 attendees gathered on Mason’s Fairfax campus to recognize the development of the joint admissions program which welcomed its first cohort of students this fall. Guests included business, education and government leaders who came to congratulate the institutions for designing the new program which promises to help thousands of Virginia’s students. The event was marked by the announcement of two major gifts by the Northrop Grumman and Micron Technology Foundations in support of the ADVANCE program and its students.
“ADVANCE is one of the most innovative ideas in higher education today,” Northam said. “George Mason University and NOVA have demonstrated that through collaboration and partnership, we can empower individuals, strengthen our workforce and create a Virginia that works better for all of its citizens.”
The ADVANCE program reinvents the transfer model by eliminating the traditional roadblocks that often sideline community college students in their quest to earn bachelor degrees. ADVANCE offers students guided degree programs and success coaches who lead students from admission through graduation eliminating barriers such as credits that don’t transfer or conflicting admission policies. The program is designed to ensure that every credit counts and no credits are wasted –saving students money and time.
It is anticipated that ADVANCE students will save approximately $16,000 over the length of their education.
Community colleges have long been gateways to higher education for diverse student populations seeking flexible and affordable learning options: they are entry points for more than 40 percent of American undergraduates. The current transfer model, however, often fails to successfully lead students toward bachelor degree completion. While 80 percent of community college students nationwide intend to earn a four-year degree, only 25 percent transfer to a four-year school within 5 years, and only 17 percent actually complete a bachelor’s degree after 6 years. These completion gaps have great implications for community college students—many of whom are first-generation, low income, and adult learners—seeking pathways to better jobs.
“NOVA and Mason are natural partners, both committed to access and inclusivity for students from all walks of life,” said NOVA President Scott Ralls. “Our institutions measure success by our impact on the number of students we serve, not the percentage of students we turn away.”
NOVA and Mason have a long history of partnering to build pathways to higher education for thousands of Virginians. Together, they represent the largest transfer relationship in Virginia, with more than 3,000 students transferring between the institutions each year.
“We’re very proud of our relationship with NOVA,” said Michelle Marks, vice president of Academic Innovation and New Ventures at Mason. “We believe our successful track record and our history make us the right ones to develop the next generation transfer program. It’s in our DNA to support transfer students.”
Regional business leaders are supporting the program because of its potential to expand and diversify the talent pipeline in the Northern Virginia area.
“We recognize the growing need for a skilled workforce, trained and equipped to maintain our nation’s technological edge in a globalized and competitive world,” said Shawn Purvis, corporate vice president and president, Northrop Grumman Enterprise Services. “There are far more high-tech positions to be filled than skilled workers to fill them. Programs such as ADVANCE can help close this gap.”
Northrop Grumman will provide scholarships for ADVANCE students interested in pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The Micron Technology Foundation pledged stipends for NOVA engineering students transferring to Mason. Additionally, Micron will fund outreach into local high schools to help identify and encourage students to enroll in ADVANCE.
“The ADVANCE partnership with NOVA exemplifies George Mason University’s commitment to providing access to excellence for students of all backgrounds,” said Mason President Ángel Cabrera. “Transfer best practices are easy to identify, but difficult to implement. Together, Mason and NOVA have created a transfer pathway that in time could serve as a model for transfer partnerships around the Commonwealth and around the country.”
The Aspen Institute is currently studying the ADVANCE program as a national model for transfer student success. “We at Aspen are studying the ADVANCE program because we believe other community colleges and universities can learn from the work of NOVA and Mason,” said Josh Wyner, founder and executive director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute, where he also serves as vice president. “Good transfer outcomes shouldn’t depend on where a student lives. All community college students should have clear path to a degree if they want one.”