Who knew? Privates and community colleges link up
While students have always been able to transfer from MnSCU two-year institutions to four-year Minnesota private colleges to earn bachelor’s degrees, many institutions are taking steps to make the process of transferring easier for students.
Through different types of collaborations, some new and others longstanding, Minnesota private colleges are finding that partnering with community and technical colleges is a smart move for everyone involved.
Inver Hills Community College is one of several MnSCU institutions at the forefront of such collaborations. Anne Johnson, dean of business and social sciences at Inver Hills, believes the collaborations serve students, four-year institutions and community colleges equally well.
“We view the partnerships as a “win-win” for all parties. Inver Hills is more likely to retain and graduate students when they know they can easily transition into a four–year program right on campus. The four-year partner benefits in that they have increased students interested in the program as a result of the presence,” Johnson said.
Such partnerships can involve several different levels of engagement, said Don Wortham, vice president for strategic initiatives at The College of St. Scholastica. For a four-year institution, that engagement may take the form of simply holding classes at a community college, providing an office and faculty/staff presence on campus or offering joint degree programs in certain academic areas.
Some partnerships have been going strong for decades, while other relationships have been forged more recently.
“Students starting or restarting college at a community college and then finishing a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university is an increasingly important educational model for the 21st century,” said Dr. Paul Christensen, assistant dean of the Graduate School of Business at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. “Therefore, collaboration between community colleges and four-year universities is a trend that will continue to grow.”
Making things convenient for students
Because helping working adults and community college transfer students complete bachelor’s degrees is part of Saint Mary’s mission, the university has a long tradition of working closely with community and technical colleges to provide convenient opportunities to do so, said Christensen.
One such opportunity is the Partners in Higher Education site in Apple Valley, a joint project of Dakota County Technical College, Inver Hills Community College and Saint Mary’s. Since 2003, the site has offered several business-related degree programs to around 200 busy adult learners each semester.
Saint Mary’s also partners with Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) to offer four different degrees. Majors available at RCTC are Business, Accounting, Human Resource Management and Psychology, said Ian Pannkuk, director of Pathways Program in the office of transfer advising and admissions at Saint Mary’s.
The RCTC partnership has existed for many years, but Pannkuk said there is a renewed emphasis on how Saint Mary’s can best serve these students.
In addition, Saint Mary’s will launch a B.S. in Business at Saint Paul College this fall, along with offering a B.S. in Business and a B.S. in Allied Healthcare Management at Inver Hills Community College in January.
One reason these programs make sense is convenience for students, said Christensen. “Community college students can finish an associate and then a bachelor’s degree without needing to leave the site. They’re already familiar with the community college and its facilities.”
Pannkuk said that being open and direct are important parts of helping adult students succeed. “We’re very up-front with students about the costs and schedule,” he said. “We try to be as transparent as possible.”
A student-driven trend
Inver Hills Community College is a “great feeder school” to Concordia University, St. Paul, bringing in many transfer students who earn four-year degrees there, said Kim Craig, director of the university’s adult undergraduate and graduate admissions.
It makes sense, then, for Concordia and Inver Hills to collaborate to offer three B.A. degree programs on the Inver Hills campus beginning this fall. The programs will be in Health Care, Organizational Management and Leadership, and Accounting, Craig said, with an additional opportunity for graduates to continue on and earn their MBA at Inver Hills, too.
These programs will use a similar model as other adult degree completion programs at Concordia, with a cohort of students completing the degree in the evenings.
“This is a good way for two-year schools to increase retention rates. Inver Hills counselors will know firsthand where students are going, and the students will see the success of other students,” Craig said. “It will be a seamless transition, with counselors saying ‘we can help you do this’ along the way.”
The motivation for starting the program was ultimately the students. “This is really student-driven. We try to be responsive to what we’ve heard from students, faculty and staff,” Craig said.
Concordia will try to provide as many students services as possible itself, from counseling to writing center access and career services, Craig said. Concordia will soon have an office at Inver Hills; an admissions staff person will be on site part-time to coordinate services, with the goal of eventually being there full-time.
A main focus for programs like this is to let students know that Concordia is an affordable option, she added. “We go through the financial aid award with them. Many students say, “I didn’t think that a private education was affordable for me,’ until that point,” said Craig.
Room for everyone at community colleges
Over the several decades that The College of St. Scholastica has been partnering with community and technical colleges, it has learned what things should be in place in order for a collaboration to be a good fit.
“We’ve found that the best indicator that a shared program would work is a very strong relationship between our faculty and their faculty,” Wortham said. “That’s the best reason to get involved in this kind of partnership — the perceived need on the front end, with their faculty aware of and advocating for a program being offered.”
This year marks St. Scholastica’s 25th year partnering with Itasca Community College to offer business and management degrees, and more than 20 years collaborating with Central Lakes College, where it offers four business degrees and a social work degree that meet on the Brainerd campus. It also offers a social work and teaching licensure program through Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.
St. Scholastica also has new partnerships in the works, with a Health Information Management degree offered this fall for the first time at St. Paul College and a social work degree offered at Inver Hills; the social work degree has been offered for a year.
Another new development will allow Inver Hills students to complete their Associate in Science in Contemporary Business degree on St. Scholastica’s downtown St. Paul campus beginning this fall.
All in all, more than 200 students are enrolled at St. Scholastica at five different community college campuses, many in rural areas. “For some of these smaller towns, we’re the only four-year option with a faculty and administrative presence near them,” Wortham said.
St. Scholastica offers many programs in the allied health field as well as in business.
Wortham said that providing student services is an important component of collaborating with community colleges. “This group of learners will probably need more support services — it’s just the challenge of working with a higher-needs population than might be coming to your campus ordinarily. That network of support is really important,” he said.
Amy Grimm, the Twin Cities campus director, said that sometimes when people initially hear about these collaborations, they don’t understand why the different colleges would want to be partners. The biggest thing, Grimm said, is that these programs “just give people more options.”
And with many of Minnesota private colleges now seeing the value of such collaborations, it’s evident that each college has a different approach, Grimm said. But she sees value in each college’s institutional culture, even with several four-year institutions, public and private, on a single community college campus. “It’s like we all remembered that this is all about the student, their time, money and needs,” she said. “I think there’s room for everybody.”
By Erin Adler, communications associate