Botzman: Higher Education Works Together to Improve Accessibility


By Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D.
President, Misericordia University

The start of a new academic year is filled with excitement, hope and opportunity for every parent and student in preschool, primary, secondary and post-secondary education. Unlike anything else, education shapes each of us as we continue to mature into the responsible, rational individuals who will be leaders of our families, communities, businesses, and civic and government organizations.

It is also my favorite time of year because we welcome new members to our academic community in the form of first-year and transfer students, while also getting to see how the previous year's experiences have begun to mold our returning students. Needless to say, it is a very rewarding moment.

At Misericordia University, our 560 new students include 122 new transfer students. The growing number of transfer students is a national trend that is being replicated here at Misericordia, as we experienced a 35-percent increase from the 2014-15 academic year.

Of the estimated 3.6 million students entering college this year about 37 percent of them will transfer to another institution of higher education within six years, according to the New Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Female students, in particular, are slightly more likely to transfer than their counterparts. More than half of the students who transfer are "mixed enrollment" at the community college level, indicating that they have been both full-time and part-time students during their academic career. As more adult learners work toward their college degrees, the number of students dropping temporarily to part time for family, economic and other reasons is certain to grow.

Sophomores and juniors are the most likely students to transfer as those classes combine for more than 60 percent of all transfers among two- and four-year institutions of higher education. That equates to more than 150,000 second-year transfers and 126,000 third-year transfers nationwide annually. For community colleges, about one in four new students will transfer to a four-year institution in six years, according to the research center.

At Misericordia, for example, we welcomed 54 new registered nurses into our Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program in the fall. The community college system in Northeastern Pennsylvania is one of our strengths as it prepares qualified workers in their fields of study who also are eager to advance their educations.

Across the country, though, transfer students from community colleges are not as ambitious, as only about one in eight students complete an additional college credit, according to the national average. In the past, the view has been that a transfer from a community college is lost to the original institution. With 48 percent of students beginning their collegiate careers at two-year institutions, this is a situation that needs to be proactively addressed in order to prevent students from being capped at a two-year degree.

Thankfully, four-year institutions are working directly with community colleges to change that trend. Misericordia, for example, has entered into a working agreement with Luzerne County Community College – our largest transfer school – to provide students with "reverse transfer" opportunities.

Under reverse transfer, we accept a student who has almost completed their associate degree. The student takes courses on the Misericordia campus and the necessary courses are transferred back to the cooperating community college. The student gets the associate degree and continues on with the bachelor's degree program. This way, the student succeeds and both institutions know they have provided another credentialed graduate for our community.

We also are working with Lackawanna College and Northampton Community College to forge similar agreements.I expect reverse transfer to eventually spread across state lines, as about one-fourth of all transfer students will be from outside their home state. Private colleges, like Misericordia, receive about 43 percent of their transfer students from another state, according to the New Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Misericordia also has made it easier for students to transfer. We recognized some time ago our transfer students from community colleges had intended to complete their four-year degree from the start. Imagine, for example, that a student needs to live at home for family or financial reasons. When the student is ready, our goal is to make the transfer straightforward and seamless. We have developed, in cooperation with the community colleges, articulation agreements that spell out the courses a student will be able to transfer to our programs. A student in business, for example, is able to complete the core courses in our general area of study and begin to take courses in the major area.

Whether a student is a recent high school graduate or a transfer student, we want to ensure that "all are welcome" on our campus. I have been fortunate to see an increasing number of students from my generation on campus, as we now have 106 students over the age of 50 taking courses for credit. The region has a wide variety of educational options available to our citizens. When we work together, they become even stronger.

Thomas J. Botzman
Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., is president of Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa., the oldest four-year institution of higher education in Luzerne County. Misericordia University ranks in the top tier of the Best Regional Universities – North category of U.S. News and World Report’s 2015 edition of Best Colleges and was designated a 2015 Best Northeastern College by the Princeton Review.
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