Community colleges say they are ready to take more UNC-bound students

Students walk between classes at Wake Tech Community College in this January 2015 file photo.
Students walk between classes at Wake Tech Community College in this January 2015 file photo. Raleigh

Taking a different stance from UNC leaders, the State Board of Community Colleges said Friday it is prepared to educate students diverted from university campuses as part of a new legislative mandate.

The board on Friday forwarded to the legislature a UNC/community college analysis on the pending initiative, called the N.C. Guaranteed Admission Program. But the board added its own addendum to the report, saying community colleges stand ready to implement the program the legislature approved last year as part of the state budget.

That puts community college leaders at odds with the UNC Board of Governors and UNC President Margaret Spellings, who called this month for NCGAP to be postponed.

In a memo to the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee, the state board’s chairman, Scott Shook, assured legislators that the community college system could handle the extra students and serve them well.

Shook wrote that community colleges are “fully capable of successfully admitting and successfully advising these students, providing them a sound freshman and sophomore year, and guiding them along a successful transfer pathway to a university.”

NCGAP would divert the weakest UNC-admitted students to community colleges for two years, starting in 2017-18. Lawmakers say the goals of the program are to get more students to graduation faster, to decrease state costs and student debt, and to ensure that students gain at least a two-year degree in the event they don’t finish at a university.

Meeting at Montgomery Community College in Troy, the state board discussed NCGAP and took issue with parts of a joint report prepared by UNC and community college system staff.

The report said sending students to community colleges first would slow them down and fail to result in more degree earners. Though the program would save the state and students money, the report said, it could have a negative impact on rural, low-income students and could deal a major blow to historically black universities.

The report used data from the 2009 cohort, which Shook wrote could give the impression that community college students aren’t successful when they transfer to universities.

The 2009 data does not take into account a series of major community college reforms that have streamlined remedial education and curriculum and required that university-bound students take a college success course. Also, in 2014, the community colleges and universities signed a new agreement easing the transfer of course credits from one system to another.

All of these changes will add up to better outcomes for community college students, Shook wrote. He cited a 2015 report from UNC that showed that community college students who entered UNC as juniors graduated at 71 percent within four years, and had higher graduation rates than transfers from other schools.

Interim Community College System President George Fouts said he met with Spellings to discuss the issue and explain the board’s view.

“They didn’t want to respond to the legislation by asking for a delay,” Fouts said of the community college system board. “They wanted something to indicate that community colleges had the capacity and the resources to implement the legislation if the General Assembly continues to desire that.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill