By Jenna A. Robinson
Margaret Spellings has said that the NC Guaranteed Admissions Program has identified the right problem, but has come up with the wrong answer. Her vision is of a UNC system accessible to everyone and educating everyone—not just elites.
And if her definition of “elite” is purely based on socio-economic factors, I agree. Universities should not be so expensive that they are only available to the wealthiest North Carolinians. But we should reserve four-year universities for students who stand out academically and are most likely to succeed at the college level.
That’s why NC GAP is the right solution. It directs students who are academically much weaker than their peers into community colleges—where remedial education is more readily available and where courses are more tailored for students who are not quite prepared for university work.
NC GAP is an alternative path that will work for North Carolina. Studies show that transferring from community college is a successful and economical way for students to succeed. In March 2014, researchers at the American Education Research Association published a study showing that community college transfers as likely to earn a BA as four-year students, despite credit transfer roadblocks:
They report, “Students who begin their postsecondary education at a community college and successfully transfer to a four-year college have BA graduation rates equal to similar students who begin at four-year colleges. That rate would actually increase – to 54 percent from 46 percent – if not for the loss of academic credits when students transfer.”
A report approved by the UNC Board of Governors (available here) predicts that NCGAP will “probably not increase the number of baccalaureate degrees obtained,” but it does not take into account the fact that the UNC system already laid the groundwork to reduce the very roadblocks that making transfer difficult. The Comprehensive Articulation Agreement, which UNC and the Community College system worked for years to perfect, makes transfer much more seamless than the report’s data indicate.
The report even points out that students who participate in NC GAP might have more commitment to completing a four-year degree than those who are in their 2009 sample.
The report also shows that NC GAP will likely: lower the cost of college education to students and the state, decrease debt from student loans, and provide a credential for students who complete an associate’s but fail to complete a BA or BS.
On net, NC GAP has far more potential benefits than costs. It would especially benefit the many students who are admitted to a UNC school, but subsequently drop out with no degree. At some UNC schools, roughly half of all students do not graduate. It would be better for these students to have an associate’s degree (and less debt) than no degree at all.
NC GAP is not a silver bullet, but it is a real step towards improving North Carolina’s many pathways to higher education.