It has not been an easy year for community college student Eric Guenther.
After learning in the same year that his mother had a cancerous brain tumor and his father lost his job, Guenther moved home to help take care of his parents both personally and financially, putting his dream of continuing his engineering education on hold.
Guenther’s mother has since recovered, and his father’s employment opportunities look promising. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Guenther’s educational career.
After completing three years at the College of DuPage and earning his associate’s degree with a 3.8 grade point average while working a full-time job, Guenther has applied to and been rejected by several four-year state colleges. The only reason for this is that he has not accumulated enough transferable credit hours to attain a junior standing.
“I don’t understand, I thought I was doing everything right,” Guenther said of his choice to save money and attend a community college for core curricula before transferring. “If I just get the chance, I know I’ll succeed.”
That chance Guenther hopes for may soon become law.
“This will create fairness and equity among all students pursing a B.A.,” Silverstein said of the bill. “Young men and women in community college need a guarantee that their efforts aren’t wasted.”
Currently, transfer agreements are from college to college, rather than system-wide. Many students have difficulty navigating this transfer process. These difficulties can result in students enrolling in excess courses, taking longer to earn their degree, paying higher tuition costs, and dropping out due to frustration, Silverstein said.
Modeled after the S.T.A.R. bill signed into law last September by California Gov. Schwarzenegger, SB 59 guarantees community college students– who earn an associate’s degree and a 2.0 grade point average on a 4.0 scale–admittance into a baccalaureate program of a state university.
The bill also says that a state university must grant priority admission to local community college students to a program and/or major similar to his/her major or area of emphasis.
In 2010, the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana was the only state school to appear in the top-ten list of state schools accepting transfer students–866 out of a total 31,473, about 2.75 percent of the undergraduate population.
“I do believe there should be a mechanism in place for universities to take a stronger look at community college transfer students than they currently do,” said Illinois Community College Trustees Board President Mike Monaghan. “This bill will ensure more students successfully transfer and earn bachelor’s degrees in less time.”
According to a 2009 study conducted by the Illinois Community College Board, 36.2 percent of nearly 384,000 student enrollments out of 914,000 total post-secondary students are in the baccalaureate transfer area. It is the largest program area in community colleges and continues to increase every year. However, less than 20 percent ever transfer.
“There needs to be more articulation and discussion between community colleges and universities about streamlining the transfer process,” said Jerry Webber, P.h.D., president of the Community College President’s Council that unanimously initiated SB 59 among the state’s 39 members. “This legislation calls that need into question.”
However, not all agree that the bill is necessary.
“We currently have programs in place to facilitate the transfer process,” said Candace Mueller, assistant external relations director at the Illinois Board of Higher Education(IBHE). “This legislation is simply not needed.”
In 1998, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), the Illinois Community College Board, and the transfer coordinators of Illinois colleges and universities jointly launched the Illinois Articulation Initiative (IAI) to help ease the transfer of students among 100 Illinois public and independent, associate and bachelor’s degree-granting institutions.
Eight years ago, u.select.org, a nation-wide, web-based information system that provides course and transfer information, was launched by College Source Inc. to help transfer students in answering questions about which classes do or do not count toward bachelor degrees at four-year institutions.
Mueller also said SB 59 could have “unintentional consequences” by automatically accepting community college classes as equal to those offered at four-year colleges.
“Course curriculum may change as a result,” said Mueller. Community colleges run risk of compromising the quality of content in exchange for guaranteeing the student’s success rate to transfer, she said.
“I completely disagree with that assessment,” Senator Silverstein said. “If anything, community colleges enhance the curriculum for students looking to transfer.”
In the 2009 Student Enrollments and Completions in the Illinois Community College System study, published by the Illinois Community College Board, community college students did as well or better academically than those who start at a university or four-year college.
“I don’t doubt for a second that I can compete with juniors at U of I,” Eric Guenther said. “It was a financial decision to go to community college first, not an educational one.”
Sen. Silverstein plans on bringing SB 59 before the General Assembly within the nest two weeks.
“We have a long ways to go, but we’ll take it one step at a time,” Silverstein said.