Whether students start at two- or four-year institutions, most of them share the same goal: graduation. Students who start at community colleges plan to earn bachelor’s degrees. To help students complete the degrees they ultimately seek, officials at many two-year colleges strive to develop clear pathways for their students to earn bachelor’s degrees without losing credits. And officials at many four-year institutions work to eliminate barriers that prevent transfer students from completing degrees in a timely way.

A long-standing partnership between Linn-Benton Community College and Oregon State University eliminates many of the problems that arise from transfer. In fact, it eliminates transfer altogether, said Bruce Clemetsen, Ph.D., vice president of student affairs at LBCC. The Degree Partnership Program enables students to be admitted to both institutions at the same time. They can take classes at either institution throughout their college career. And students taking all their classes at LBCC are still considered OSU students. They are eligible to take advantage of all of OSU’s support services for students offered at OSU, including health services, cultural centers and even campus housing. Plus, they can file for financial aid as OSU students as long as they are enrolled in at least one course there. That typically results in a bigger award because the financial aid office processes aid by the number of total hours the student is taking and not by where the student is taking them.

The DPP has been around for 16 years, Officials at the two colleges saw that students were finding their way to the bachelor’s with credits from both institutions, so they created the program to normalize paths students were already taking, Clemetsen said.

Students can apply for the DPP before they start college or at any point in their enrollment at LBCC or OSU. Having two schedules to choose from makes it easier for them to stay on track to degree completion, Clemetsen said. And officials at both institutions have access to the student information system at the other institution, so students don’t have to arrange for transfer credit.

Participation in the program has risen steadily over the years and is up to about 5,000 students each academic year.

Program leads to student success

Student results from the PDD have been positive. Lynne L. Hindman, Ph.D., research coordinator for the Center for Teaching and Learning at OSU, studied student completion rates for her doctoral dissertation. She analyzed data about the 2005 freshman cohort over 8.25 years. She compared the bachelor’s completion rates for OSU students who were part of the PDD and those who were not. At the six-year mark, the completion rate was 61 percent for those who participated and 60 percent for those who did not. By the eight-year mark, the graduation rate for PDD students rose to 68 percent, but the rate for native OSU students rose to only 64 percent.

The results were particularly positive for nontraditional students. Students who are 25 or older are 2.13 times more likely to graduate if they are part of the PDD than if they are not, Hindman said.

Dual program helps with recruitment

Offering a clear path to a bachelor’s degree at a reduced cost helps LBCC and OSU recruit students. Some specific populations that admissions officials successfully target with the program are:

  • Native American students from Oregon. Tribal officials are sometimes reluctant to support students who enroll at a community college with tribal dollars. They have concerns that the students will be tracked into career or technical programs or will get stuck in developmental education, Clemetsen said. Also, they have the idea that students with talent should go straight to the university. But the officials approve tribal funds for students in the partnership because they see the sound academic connection between the two institutions and the clear path to a bachelor’s. Plus, the students can use OSU’s cultural center for Native American students throughout their program. And they pay a lot less for the bachelor’s since they can take many classes at LBCC.
  • Rural students. The PDD enables these students to be OSU students in an affordable way. They don’t have to worry about when they are going to transfer. And they get smaller communities in the residence halls and in their community college classes, so entering through this route is not as intimidating.
  • International students. These students find the program attractive because it is more affordable than just attending OSU.
  • Nontraditional students. One student Hindman spoke with, a mother of four, needed one class to graduate and couldn’t get it at OSU. She applied for the PDD and took the class at LBCC. She told Hindman she would not have been able to graduate otherwise. She could have taken the course at LBCC and transferred it without joining the PDD, but her OSU financial aid would not have counted toward it, and she would have had to order a transcript after completing the course to get transfer credit at OSU.
  • Hawaiian students. OSU enrolls many students from Hawaii. But LBCC has a much lower threshold for establishing residency than does OSU, Clemetsen said. All the students have to do is live in the state for 90 days and get a driver’s license with their address to qualify for in-state tuition through LBCC. They can earn residency while going to school full-time and living in the OSU residence hall.

Cooperation on curriculum meets institutions’, students’ needs

Faculty members at the two institutions communicate to ensure that courses align so that students learn what they need to know to move forward.

The program’s largest draw is for engineering, Clemetsen said. Advisors who work with OSU engineering freshmen have them sign up for the PDD. The smaller math classes at LBCC are one advantage for those students.

And the partnership has enabled faculty to work together to offer needed sections of classes. For example, OSU wasn’t offering certain business classes in the evening, and working students needed to take them then. LBCC offered sections to meet the need. And LBCC offered foreign language classes during the day, when OSU departments were not able to offer enough sections to meet student demand.

The partnership also allows the institutions to innovate on curriculum. For example, students who want to earn a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and foodservice systems must enroll in the PDD. The program includes a year of culinary courses at LBCC, Clemetsen said. Not many bachelor’s programs accept, let alone require, a year of credits from a career/technical program, he added.

Cultural centers provide academic support

The PDD started off as an equity-driven program, Clemetsen said. It helps low-income students earn bachelor’s degrees for far less money than they would pay if they enrolled only at OSU. And students can take advantage of OSU’s resources while paying the lower tuition and enjoying the smaller class sizes at LBCC.

Students of color can take advantage of OSU’s four cultural centers. The university offers the Asian & Pacific Cultural Center, the Centro Cultural César Chávez, the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center, and the Native American Longhouse Eena Haws.

Besides offering social activities and events, the centers offer academic support. Last year, officials added peer tutors for 18 to 22 hours a week at each center, said Kim McAloney, academic engagement coordinator for the Educational Opportunities Program. Besides helping students with specific subjects, the tutors help them with study skills, test-taking strategies, campus resources and wellness. Staff members will even walk students to where they need to go on campus if that helps the students. For example, if students need help finding health or psychological services, or even need help finding a place to eat, the staff can assist.

The relationships students form at the centers are valuable in helping them feel at home and support them in getting help when they need it, McAloney said.

Courses in a first-year transition program are also offered through and at the centers. Choices this academic year and last have included “Untold Stories: History of People of Color in Oregon” and “What Am I Doing Here?! Being First in the Family at College.” These culturally themed courses are among the many options students can choose in the transition program.

Email Bruce Clemetsen at clemetb@linnbenton.edu, Lynne L. Hindman at Lynn.Hindman@oregonstate.edu, and Kim McAloney at Kim.McAloney@oregonstate.edu.