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UMass courting two-year transfers

Community colleges targeted; special services to be offered

BROADENING OPPORTUNITY Governor Deval Patrick said making education more accessible for all classes is an important way to build a stronger Commonwealth. BROADENING OPPORTUNITY
Governor Deval Patrick said making education more accessible for all classes is an important way to build a stronger Commonwealth.
By Tracy Jan
Globe Staff / March 23, 2011

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University of Massachusetts Amherst, seeking to reach out to immigrants, low-income families, and first-generation college students, will announce today a new effort to recruit community college graduates to the state university’s flagship campus.

Starting this fall, UMass will offer students who transfer from Massachusetts community colleges with a minimum 2.5 grade-point average priority course registration and housing, scholarships to cover hefty student fees, and special advising services.

The university will make new efforts to publicize a little-known state policy guaranteeing admission to Massachusetts community college graduates in most academic programs who earned a 2.5 grade-point average, and waiving tuition for those with a 3.0.

UMass Amherst typically enrolls about 300 graduates from community colleges, which are two-year programs, each fall, and it hopes to increase that by 20 percent over the next five years.

“The way we’re going to build a better and stronger Commonwealth is to strengthen education and make it more accessible to every class, and to raise the expectations people have about their own education,’’ Governor Deval Patrick said in an interview yesterday. “It is important that the flagship take the leadership. We want to make it clear that this is about access to a whole range of university opportunities.’’

Patrick, who is scheduled to appear with UMass Amherst chancellor Robert Holub at Roxbury Community College this morning to unveil the program, said he hopes that the other UMass campuses and state universities will also give community college graduates special treatment to help them earn their bachelor’s degrees.

UMass Amherst, where only half of undergraduates earn a degree in four years, is on a quest to boost its national reputation, in part by recruiting more out-of-state students and expanding its honors college to attract high-achieving students.

But the state is also hoping to boost the overall number of four-year college graduates in Massachusetts, and to draw a more diverse student body to the Amherst campus. UMass Amherst officials said the university is targeting community college graduates because studies have shown that those who earn their associate’s degrees are as likely to graduate from four-year schools as students who begin as freshmen.

“Community college graduates are desirable simply because they have already achieved something,’’ Holub said in an interview. “We want these students to know that we have a place for them, and we will give them special attention.’’

Richard Freeland, state commissioner for higher education, praised UMass Amherst for its outreach efforts to underserved populations because four-year research institutions typically favor students who enroll as freshmen.

“It is unusual for such institutions to go out of their way to invite community college transfers,’’ Freeland said. “While they may not be the highest achieving students, the statistics show that they are a good bet.’’

While the state’s public universities have for years guaranteed admission to community college graduates who earned a 2.5 grade-point average, few students from eastern Massachusetts knew about the offer at Amherst, university officials said, leaving the campus to draw the majority of its community college transfers from the western part of the state.

“We’re not a regional school. We’re the flagship university for the entire Commonwealth and we want to reflect that, not only in our freshmen but in our community college transfers,’’ said Todd Diacon, deputy chancellor at UMass Amherst who is overseeing the new program. “It’s important for students in Boston to have a chance at obtaining a degree from a flagship university at a reasonable cost.’’

Graduates of Boston community colleges, such as Bunker Hill and Roxbury, have traditionally transferred to UMass Boston, just minutes away, or to Boston-area private colleges, including Northeastern and Boston University, said Stephanie Janey, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at Roxbury Community College. Many have not considered UMass Amherst because it’s too far from work and family responsibilities, she said.

“We’re not trying to take students away from any other campus, but we want students to know that as the flagship, we have more majors and more opportunities for them,’’ Holub said.

UMass Amherst officials spent the past year touring the state and meeting with community college representatives to find out what would entice more students to consider attending the flagship, Holub said.

Under the program, called “community college connection,’’ students who graduate from community college with a 3.7 grade-point average or higher will receive a $500 book scholarship. The university also waives its $1,700 a year tuition for those with GPAs above 3.0, and offers additional scholarships to select students to help defray fees of about $10,000 a year.

The university will now also offer new benefits that move community college graduates — often overlooked at four-year schools — to the front of the line for services. They will be able to enroll in classes first. Their financial aid packages will be calculated before those of other transfer applicants. And, in a move that the university hopes will draw more students from eastern Massachusetts, the school will reserve 50 housing slots for community college transfers.

In addition, the university will begin offering residential academic programs that allow transfer students who live on the same dorm floor to also take a course together. And it will offer special seminars to assist those transferring from community colleges to UMass Amherst’s business or engineering schools.

Tracy Jan can be reached at tjan@globe.com.