Short-Lived Transfer Degrees

Drexel University nixes on-site bachelor's degree offerings at three local community colleges, one year after creating two of the highly touted partnerships.

January 6, 2015

Drexel University last January earned praise for expanding a transfer program that brings the university’s faculty members to local community colleges. But Drexel is phasing out the program less than a year later.

As The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported, the university will no longer offer bachelor’s degrees on the campuses of two Pennsylvania community colleges and one located across the Delaware River, in New Jersey.

Drexel issued a written statement explaining the decision. It didn’t offer specific reasons for nixing the relatively new programs with Montgomery County Community College and Delaware County Community College, as well as one with New Jersey’s Burlington County College, which has been in place for almost a decade.

“We now believe that students are best served by completing their degree on Drexel’s campus,” the written statement said, “where they will have access to the full Drexel experience, including interactions with a wide range of faculty and other students and to all of the resources available on campus.”

The university has recently spent heavily on expanding and improving its main campus in Philadelphia. As a result, the statement appears to suggest that taking degrees to the suburbs has become less of a priority for Drexel, one source speculated.

It would be surprising if money concerns killed the on-site degrees, given Drexel’s confidence about the programs’ bottom line last year.

John Fry, Drexel’s president, told Inside Higher Ed last year that the goal was to develop a third way for community college students to transfer to the university.

Drexel has a healthy conventional transfer pipeline from the three colleges, as well as others in the region. Montgomery County sent 75 students to Drexel in 2013, for example. Many graduates from the three institutions also enroll in Drexel’s online degree programs.

But the expansion of the Burlington-style partnership to the two Pennsylvania colleges meant Drexel was bringing its degrees -- and faculty members -- directly to community college students at their campuses. That approach is rare in higher education, particularly for a private university.

After first earning an associate degree from the two-year colleges, students have been able to continue on to earn bachelor’s degrees from Drexel without leaving their community colleges. They also received substantial tuition discounts, which reduced the price of a Drexel degree by 37 percent.

The relationship is good for students, experts said, in part because it sends a signal that they can complete a bachelor’s degree without too much disruption to their lives. It also paid off for the community colleges and Drexel, Fry said last year.

“There’s a good, healthy margin there,” he said. “Both institutions do well financially.”

Six Months In

Drexel said it remained committed to strengthening its already deep partnerships with the three community colleges.

The university will offer enhanced transfer articulation agreements, targeted scholarships and other ways to “make it as easy as possible for community college graduates to obtain their bachelor’s degrees from Drexel.”

While Karen Stout, Montgomery County’s president, said the news of the on-site degrees’ demise was an “abrupt” surprise, she remains confident that transfer pathways to Drexel will continue to grow. In particular, she praised the university’s efforts to bring in transfer students in STEM tracks. And she said a successful transfer program with Montgomery County for online nursing degrees will remain in place.

Students who are currently enrolled in the on-site programs will be able to complete their degrees at the same tuition rate, the university said. Drexel will work with each student to develop a plan for completion, which may include some online courses and others offered at the Philadelphia campus.

Burlington County said in a written statement posted to its website that a guaranteed admissions transfer path to Drexel stays in effect. The college also said it is “working toward securing agreements with other universities to provide on-site four-year degree programs in engineering, technology and related degree programs.”

Montgomery County’s on-site program has only been up and running for six months.  But while it was later to the game than Burlington County, the college moved quickly to create six bachelor’s programs with Drexel.

That may have been too many, Stout said. While the college was able to drum up some student interest in the degrees, each one came with different sets of faculty members and other costs.

“We should have started with fewer areas,” said Stout.

Even so, six months was not much time to see whether the partnership would work financially.

“It was so early it was hard to tell if there was more demand,” she said.


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