Could Virginia’s college system provide a blueprint for California in helping community college students achieve university degrees?

For Steve Perez, the decision of where to pursue his college education posed a significant challenge.

Being the first in his family to aim for higher education, Perez found himself in uncharted territory when he didn’t get accepted to his preferred school, Virginia Tech. Contemplating the option of a local community college in Falls Church, Virginia, he grappled with uncertainties about the transfer process to a four-year university and the responsibility of navigating the course requirements and admissions protocols on his own.

Expressing his predicament, Perez shared, “No one in my family really knows anything about college. That was really tough.”

The turning point for Perez came when his high school counselor introduced him to ADVANCE, a collaborative program between Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University, featuring dual admission to both institutions.

Under ADVANCE, students commence their academic journey at the community college but secure admission to George Mason even before commencing their first community college class. Moreover, the program equips students upfront with a comprehensive list of required courses to attain their bachelor’s degree, a task often left to students in other regions.

Serving a student body of about 70,000 across six campuses in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, Northern Virginia Community College ranks as the most extensive community college in the state. In parallel, George Mason claims the title of the largest public research university in Virginia, accommodating around 40,000 commuter students. Notably, Northern Virginia historically sends the highest number of students to George Mason among all community colleges.

A statue of George Mason on the George Mason University campus in Fairfax.
Credit: Taneen Momeni / EdSource

The ADVANCE program stands as a testament to the success of the transfer partnership. Since its inception in 2018, over 1,500 students in the program seamlessly transitioned to Mason, with 415 making the leap this past fall. Remarkably, over 90% of these students graduated within two years of transferring to Mason.

Recognized on a national scale, the ADVANCE program earned accolades from the federal Department of Education for its innovative solution to the convoluted transfer process that often hampers community college students.

Contrasting the success of the Virginia program, California faces significant challenges with most community college students struggling to complete their bachelor’s degree due to a lack of adequate support and guidance in the transfer process.

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