Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and George Mason University (GMU) have announced a partnership that they say will not only help students from both schools, but become a model for university partnerships worldwide.
On April 4, the schools signed an agreement to help students at the community college seamlessly transfer to GMU and earn a four-year degree. The signing ceremony in Fairfax included Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Secretary of Education Dietra Trent and a group of northern Virginia business leaders, and all hailed the partnership as a milestone.
“That’s advancing student success,” said NOVA President Scott Ralls. “And if we do this right, I think we’ll be a model for advancing what higher education is about – that pathway to the American Dream.”
The centerpiece of the agreement is a direct curriculum track for NOVA students to transfer to GMU. While the schools, like many connected community college-university partnerships across the country, have admission transfer agreements already in place, they hadn’t collaborated on a detailed academic transfer arrangement. GMU president Angel Cabrera said Ralls reached out to him more than two years ago, before Ralls had even officially taken his position, to figure out a way to create an obstacle-free transition. The schools have already implemented the first installment of this program for mechanical engineering majors and hope to incorporate at least five new majors each year for the foreseeable future.
GMU vice president Michelle Marks said only 14 percent of students nationwide who start at community colleges finish with a bachelors degree in six years. That’s partly because many credits earned at the community college level aren’t accepted by four-year institutions. The new partnership creates one admission point for both schools, and will direct NOVA students on an academic course that will see 100 percent of their credits accepted at GMU, with the goal to have them graduate with a GMU bachelor’s degree within four years.
Along with credit transfers, the new program will also further assist students in acclimating to GMU by giving them access to the Fairfax City-based university’s student organizations and facilities. Additionally, students looking to begin a four-year trek at NOVA are aided by an advisor who helps work them through admissions, course selection and financial aid opportunities.
“There are a few like it, but we think this is the most comprehensive,” Marks said.
While academic leaders belief the integration will bolster graduation rates, government and business leaders are hopeful it will also strengthen the northern Virginia economy. Many high-tech industries have unmet jobs, and McAuliffe has said there are thousands of unfilled positions available right now in northern Virginia alone. GMU officials said the new program will prioritize industries like cyber security, biotech and data analytics and it will jump start a pipeline to fill these positions.
With more than 35,000 students and campuses in Fairfax City, Arlington, Prince William County and Korea, GMU has Virginia’s largest student population of any four-year university and takes in about 3,000 transfer students a year. About 90 percent of those transfer from Annandale-based NOVA, the Commonwealth’s largest community college with more than 70,000 students and seven campuses and learning centers.