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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

May 22, 2008

Admission partnerships strengthen ISU relationship with community colleges

by Teddi Barron, News Service

In 2005, admissions officials saw the writing on the wall: total enrollment was climbing at Iowa community colleges while dropping at the regents' universities. And the number of new community college transfer students enrolling at Iowa State had dropped for the fourth year in a row. The university set out to reverse the trend, coming up with a simple strategy -- to strengthen the relationships with Iowa's community colleges and better serve transfer students.

Iowa State celebrated completion of admission partnership agreements with all 15 community colleges in Iowa during signing ceremonies May 15 at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Southeastern Community College in Burlington and the Eastern Iowa Community College District in Davenport.

First piloted in 2006 at Des Moines Area Community College, the Admissions Partnership Program (APP) makes it easier for community college students to transfer to Iowa State for their four-year degrees. And it formalizes Iowa State's relationship with community colleges.

"The program helps bridge the two college environments and ensures students feel connected to the Iowa State community from the beginning," said Marc Harding, director of admissions and enrollment services.

Building stronger relationships with Iowa's community colleges to benefit students who transfer to Iowa State is a priority for president Gregory Geoffroy. And over the past two years, he has visited every community college in Iowa to sign these agreements.

Program eases transfer shock

The strategy is working: The number of ISU's new undergraduate community college transfers from Iowa has grown for the past two years. No college or university enrolls more Iowa community college transfer students than Iowa State. And Iowa State would like that trend to continue.

"Transfer students are a real important part of our culture at Iowa State," Harding said. "Almost 30 percent of our students are transfer students. We'd be smaller, less diverse and a less dynamic university without them."

The idea of joint partnerships between two- and four-year colleges is not new. What makes Iowa State's program stand out is how streamlined it is for the students, said Laura Doering, senior associate registrar and director of transfer relations.

"Advising is the centerpiece. That's what makes our program unique," Doering said. "It's such a simple concept and we've formalized it. We provide transfer students with more substantive contact with academic advisers who can mentor them while they select coursework."

For example, ISU academic advisers help build a four-year plan for the students. Each term, community college students find out if they're on track for ISU degree requirements by receiving a transfer credit evaluation and degree evaluation for their intended ISU major.

That means there are no surprises in how credit transfers to ISU. And that helps smooth the transition and minimize transfer shock, Doering said. Transfer shock, a term coined by Frankie Santos Laanan, associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies, refers to the impact that transitioning from one college to another has on a student.

Students gain access and confidence

There are other benefits for the community college students in the program. APP students receive an ISUCard and get access to events and opportunities exclusive to the Iowa State community -- like university housing, libraries, extracurricular activities and recreational facilities.

"We've even had community college students play (and win) intramural football at ISU," Harding noted.

Last fall, 342 DMACC students enrolled in the partnership program.

"It's a fantastic opportunity for our students and one that excites them and their parents. Everyone understands the value of making that connection with Iowa State," said DMACC president Robert Denson.

"ISU has worked closely with us to identify and eliminate the small roadblocks in the transfer process," Denson said. "As a result, DMACC students have a greater confidence in their future. That confidence may be the program's most significant benefit for our students. They know there's no red tape ahead of them when it comes time to transfer."

A strong start

Although the ISU program is just getting under way, early evidence indicates that it's on the right track, Harding said.

"From a phone survey of 52 students in the program, students were overwhelmingly satisfied with the ISU advising," Harding said. "They're all satisfied with their decision to enroll here and all plan to graduate from ISU."

Other schools and organizations have expressed interest in learning from Iowa State about building a smooth transfer program that maximizes student success and satisfaction. Harding and Doering have been invited to present the ISU program at higher education conferences in Ohio and Washington, D.C.

During the coming year, the program's future will be shaped by ongoing discussions with participating students, community college partners and the university community. Adjustments and enhancements will be made based upon feedback, focus groups and formalized assessment.

"It's clear that implementation of the Admissions Partnership Program has provided the opportunity for substantive dialogue and collaboration between Iowa State and all of Iowa's community colleges," Harding said. "And that will pave the way for Iowa State to better serve future transfer students."


"It's a fantastic opportunity for our students and one that excites them and their parents. Everyone understands the value of making that connection with Iowa State."

Robert Denson, DMACC president