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Collaboration creates college opportunities
2 + 2 = A College Degree

Texas universities and community colleges are learning what all kindergartners are taught: sharing is good.

More Texans are going to college than ever. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) reports higher education enrollment grew more rapidly between 2000 and 2003 than in any other three-year period in state history. But many Texas students live in areas with few or no four-year institutions.

To meet the needs of those students, Texas universities and community colleges are extending their reach by creating innovative partnerships, sometimes including shared facilities. Often called "2 + 2" programs, these relationships offer many Texans the chance to earn a bachelor's degree conveniently and affordably.

While the specific features of 2 + 2 programs vary among institutions, the basic concept is simple: students take two years of basic and "core" classes at a community or junior college and then transfer the credits to a four-year institution.

The option offers students convenience and affordability. Students can stay closer to home, and community colleges generally charge much lower tuition rates than universities.

"Community colleges are going to enroll as much as 70 percent of all new students that we expect in Texas over the next 10 years," said Dr. Raymund Paredes, Texas' commissioner of Higher Education. "So any model that involves strong cooperation between two- and four-year institutions is something we ought to look at closely."

Shared facilities in Victoria
Some partnerships between two-year colleges and universities are simple "articulation" agreements, whereby the four-year institution agrees to credit the lower-level school's courses toward the university's degree plans. Others go farther, with coordinated course plans and shared facilities.

One such arrangement exists between Victoria College and the University of Houston at Victoria (UHV), which share a common campus.

"Our two institutions act as one in this community," said Jennifer Yancey, executive director of Institutional Advancement for Victoria College. "[UHV has] two buildings on our campus, and we share library resources. And [UHV students have] full use of our student center, activities area and auditorium."

UHV offers junior- and senior-level courses at the campus, dovetailing with Victoria College's two-year program and allowing students to earn a University of Houston degree without leaving town.

"[The partnership] provides [local residents] with an opportunity a lot of them wouldn't have otherwise, not being able to go off to school," Yancey said. "They're provided a quality education at affordable prices here and given the opportunity to go on for a four-year degree at very reasonable [rates]."

Commissioner Paredes said the model makes sense because it decreases competition between the two institutions. He also said the schools' co-location may encourage community college students to pursue further education.

"It puts them in the middle of all these upper division students and may raise their aspirations--may make the possibility of transfer less intimidating," he said.

Sugar Land's teaching center
The University of Houston (UH) system--which includes the University of Houston, UH-Downtown, UH-Clear Lake and UHV--also operates teaching centers in Sugar Land and Cinco Ranch that offer upper-level courses leading to about 35 degrees issued by the system's universities.

"Both Wharton County Junior College and Houston Community College are partners of ours," said Susan Reynolds, interim director of the University of Houston System at Sugar Land. "It's a great collaboration, because it allows students to come from the community colleges to our center, which does junior-, senior- and master's-level courses, and stay in the county while completing their work."

The Sugar Land center, which opened its doors about 10 years ago, began in a building on a local campus of Wharton County Junior College. Now in its own facility, the center retains a close relationship with the junior college and may once again share space with it.

"We are working with Wharton on the possibility of them moving [their Sugar Land campus] on site out here," said Reynolds.

All four UH system universities offer coursework at the center.

A&M in San Antonio
Since fall 2000, Texas A&M-Kingsville (TAMUK) has worked with Palo Alto College, a member of Bexar County's Alamo Community College District, to offer four-year university degrees to residents of San Antonio's Southside region.

The TAMUK system center offers degrees including business administration, computer information systems, elementary education, psychology, criminology, kinesiology, mathematics, history, English, accounting and sociology. Palo Alto College hosts the center in eight on-campus portable buildings.

"Its students may use our library, our gym, all of our facilities, but A&M holds its classes in the portables, and that's where they have their admissions, financial aid and student services offices," said Palo Alto President Dr. Ana M. Guzmán.

Southside students had no local opportunities to take upper-level college work before TAMUK arrived.

"The economic impact on the Southside will be felt for years, because this area does not have the percentage of college graduates that other areas in San Antonio do," said Guzmán. "The presence of Texas A&M here, working with Palo Alto, increases the probability that students will go directly on for a four-year degree."

Guzmán found that members of her own staff were among the first to take advantage of TAMUK's presence; a large number of Palo Alto's administrative assistants have pursued bachelor's degrees through the center.

"It has opened up opportunities to people who might not have thought of furthering their careers," said Guzmán. "It's so convenient."

"We have worked earnestly with Texas A&M-Kingsville to ensure that our students have the 2 + 2s-the transfers," she said. "Since we have started developing the transfer programs, students have become more savvy than ever. When they go to community college, they say, 'where are your 2 + 2s?'"

The biggest problem facing the center is its popularity.

"Texas A&M has outgrown the eight portables they have here," said Guzmán.

Two bond issues that would have funded the construction of a separate Southside TAMUK campus failed in the recent regular legislative session and the first special session.

Cost-effective opportunity
Commissioner Paredes said 2 + 2 collaborations are the ideal way to introduce greater educational opportunities to growing areas.

"When there seems to be a likelihood of significant population growth in a given community, the 2 + 2 model makes a lot of sense to start out," he said. "And if it turns out that, ultimately, there's a need for a four-year campus, fine. But sharing resources is a cost-effective way to begin."

Paredes said structured collaborations between community colleges and universities appear to be the state's best bet for expanding educational opportunity.

"It's very clear that we cannot build a whole bunch of stand-alone four-year campuses," said Paredes. "So we're going to have to look at models that are cost-effective. We know that community colleges are going to be the key to meeting our goals."

Bruce Wright