CHICOPEE

Despite their best intentions, the majority of community college students never realize their dream of attaining a four-year degree. A recent report by the Century Foundation found that 81 percent of students had planned to attain a four-year degree when they first entered community college. However, only 11 percent actually achieved their goal.

Community colleges are thriving. With 11 million students enrolled at over 1,100 schools, community colleges are home to 45 percent of the collegiate population in the United States. Many reasons determine why students choose a community college over a four-year school. First and foremost is the affordability factor. Students can attend a community college at a fraction of the cost of a public or private college. Additionally, 59 percent of community college students receive some type of financial assistance.

Others attend community colleges because of their proximity to students’ homes. Many community college students work either full or part time and need the convenience of a college located nearby. Forty percent of community college students are first generation students. Often overwhelmed by a large campus, this population sees the community college as an attractive option.

Given the popularity of community colleges, the question remains: Why are so many community college students not receiving a bachelor’s degree as they had originally intended? Evidence suggests that sticker price shock often prevents community college students from transferring to a four-year school.


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Other deterrents include the often convoluted transfer process and a traditional class schedule.

At Elms College we addressed these challenges by creating an accelerated 20-month bachelor’s degree completion program with an affordable price structure and easy transfer process for individuals with associate degrees.

Held on the campuses of local community colleges, the program enables students to earn a bachelor’s degree from a private institution at a location both convenient and familiar to them. By completing coursework in 10 eight-week sessions over a 20-month period, students can save thousands of dollars. Finishing a bachelor’s degree in this off-campus program makes a private four-year college education both affordable and achievable for many students.

By partnering with these community colleges, Elms College has created a convenient and affordable weekend program that offers students many degree options. Classes run for four hours on Friday evening and a flexible four hours on Saturday. Those who complete the program are awarded an Elms College Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree.

With so much at stake -- not the least of which is the country’s ability to compete with a highly skilled global workforce -- it’s imperative that qualified individuals who want to earn a four-year degree be given every opportunity to do so. Anything less puts us all at risk.

Sister Mary Reap, IHM, has served as president of Elms College since 2009. During her tenure she has overseen the completion of the new Center for Natural and Health Sciences and was instrumental in developing the community college transfer program. In addition, she currently is on the board of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. For more information on the school’s Berkshire programs, visit www.elms.edu/academics/degree-completion/off-campus/elms-in-the-berkshires/index.