NC Central to host Durham Tech students in new experiment

jstancill@newsobserver.comJune 30, 2014 

— This fall, N.C. Central University will have a crop of new students whose academic home is down the road at Durham Technical Community College.

In an experiment that may become a model elsewhere, the university in Durham will welcome about two dozen students who live, eat and socialize at NCCU, but who take their courses at Durham Tech.

The effort is aimed at prospective NCCU students who may fall short of admissions requirements there but, with success at the community college level, could be good candidates to transfer to the four-year university. Students will be selected for the program through the NCCU admissions process.

Here’s how the dual enrollment program works. Students will enroll full time at Durham Tech for classes their first two years, as they work toward an associate’s degree. But they will live on the NCCU campus, and they will have access to tutoring, mentoring and student activities at Central. They’ll pay Durham Tech tuition, but room and board will go to NCCU.

The move could save students thousands in tuition costs over the two-year period. But the goal is an academic one – to help students achieve a two-year credential, and ultimately a bachelor’s degree.

“It’s an area that we’re very much interested in,” said Johnson Akinleye, provost at NCCU. “One of our major goals is to increase the number of transfer students that are coming to us.”

Data show that those who earn an associate’s degree first have higher graduation rates at four-year colleges compared to those who enter straight from high school. Transfer students are often considered to be more mature and focused.

The program could provide a new pipeline of students for NCCU, which, like other campuses, has recently seen a decline in enrollment since the UNC system enacted higher minimum admissions standards. Last fall, NCCU’s student population fell by nearly 6 percent from the fall of 2012.

The university of about 8,100 students has a six-year graduation rate of 42 percent. More transfer students would likely to boost that figure; traditionally, students tend to drop out in the first year of college.

Advisers and mentors

The program will give students the support they need to be successful, Akinleye said. They will have academic advisers and mentors at NCCU; at Durham Tech, they will be required to take a one-credit course called College Transfer Success. That class will emphasize study skills, organization and critical thinking.

The unique arrangement launches Monday, with leaders from the nearby schools inking an agreement for a three-year pilot program. It’s called Eagle Connect, and it was based on Hoosier Link, a guaranteed-admissions program between Indiana University in Bloomington and Ivy Tech Community College.

The two Durham campuses are less than a mile apart, and both are served by Durham bus lines. So the students will essentially be commuters who also enjoy the atmosphere of a residential college.

“This is going to be a unique program in the sense that it really allows these kids to get an immersive experience about college life, being on a college campus, interacting with other college students,” Akinleye said. “That way, it sort of shifts their mindset.”

New path to a degree

The program is an example of new approaches in how students earn higher education credentials. Across the nation, colleges are experimenting with partnerships, online and hybrid classes, and course credits based not on seat time but on competency levels.

Earlier this year, leaders from the UNC system and the N.C. Community College System signed an agreement that establishes clearer rules and seamless pathways for students who move from two-year to four-year institutions. The two systems have pledged closer collaboration to boost completion rates.

Valarie Evans, senior vice president for student learning, development and support at Durham Tech, said the new program will strengthen the link between two campuses that are already close.

The community college may learn more about how to foster success for students looking to transition to a four-year campus. And the students in the program will have each other to lean on, Evans said.

“Having an identity group right away will assist them in staying the course,” she said. “I love the idea of the cohort model because I think it’s encouraging, and they can work together.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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