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U-Va.'s Casteen on community college transfers

In an article published today, I share the success stories of a few hundred students who, each year, achieve a seemingly impossible feat: transferring from one of Virginia's community colleges to the University of Virginia, one of the most selective public universities in the nation.

Transfers have increased by more than one-third since 2000 in both Maryland and Virginia. Maryland education leaders are moving toward statewide transfer degrees to simplify a process that had been driven by hundreds of individual compacts between single colleges. In Virginia, community college students with As and Bs and the right courses are now guaranteed transfer into U-Va., or the equally selective College of William and Mary, not to mention another 30-plus four-year colleges around the state.

The transfer guarantee is such a tempting backdoor admission path that crafty high school seniors have tried to game it, taking a couple community college courses and then applying as "transfer" students. State leaders moved to close the loophole.

It is, perhaps, a little-known fact that John Casteen, the 20-year president of U-Va., is known as a passionate supporter of community college transfers. He began working toward increasing community college transfer enrollment in the 1970s, when he was dean of admissions at U-Va. He has been a leading voice in opening up the transfer process in Virginia, helping to create a national model of access. In fact, he leaves U-Va. this summer to serve on the governing board of the Virginia Foundation for Community College Education, a group that raises scholarship funds.

I asked Casteen about the history and future of community college transfer in Virginia.

Q: State data show your incoming transfers from Virginia community colleges are up 100 percent since fall 2000. What do you think is driving this trend?

A: Three main causes: We've received higher numbers of applicants from the Virginia Community College system who have had excellent academic guidance in VCCS. U.Va. has recruited vigorously, and, of course, it's because of the guaranteed admission program for associate degree recipients who take the required courses and earn the required grades."

Q: You now guarantee admission to community college transferees under certain conditions. It's pretty unusual for U-Va. to guarantee admission to anyone. How has that worked?

A: It works fine. We have had a de facto guarantee since 1978, and we lobbied for the state-wide program in the 2005/6 restructuring bill, [which spawned the transfer guarantees.]

Q: What was the attitude toward transfers at U-Va. before you arrived? How do you think the attitude has evolved? Are transferees acknowledged and embraced now in ways that they weren't then?

A: I have no idea as to attitudes before I came. The 1977 VCCS transfer student performance study, which showed that performance in our upper division was equal to or better than native students' performance, probably ended whatever suspicion or bias may have existed earlier. The University of Virginia was the lead institution in 1983-4 Virginia Plan effort to expand minority student transfer population. Surges in VCCS transfer enrollment resulted, and have improved steadily since. Implementation of 2006 restructuring bill caused another surge. Attitudes toward transfer students have evolved favorably as result of faculty/student contact with them. Same has happened for older students owing to success of the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

Q: Sixty percent of Cal State graduates start in community colleges. What do you think should be the goal for U-Va., or for Virginia public universities generally, for its transfer population?

A: I doubt there is a goal. We are nowhere near capacity to enroll VCCS transfers. For the foreseeable future, we can take all who qualify under the VCCS guarantee.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  June 17, 2010; 12:43 PM ET
Categories:  Access , Administration , Admissions , Attainment , Community Colleges , Public policy , Publics  | Tags: Maryland community college transfers, UVA transfers, Virginia community college transfers, community college transfers  
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