Students enrolled in Nassau Community College on New York's Long Island will be able to participate in campus life at Adelphi University, a neighboring four-year institution, as a part of a new program starting this fall. Students can live at Adelphi and participate in campus activities while taking their courses at Nassau before they transfer to the university to complete their bachelor's degrees.
Most community colleges lack on-campus housing, and students commuting back and forth to their classes tend to have less access to the typical trappings of campus life: social events, student clubs, dining services, sporting events and more.
“A lot of students who start at community college are fearful they’re missing out on a four-year experience,” said Kristen Capezza, vice president of enrollment management at Adelphi. Adelphi has been accepting Nassau Community College transfers for years, but last fall, campus administrators at the two institutions asked themselves, “Can we do something that’s going to jump-start their experience and get them immersed in the community so that they feel like they’re part of the community from the get-go -- and something that will allow them to have an even more seamless transition when they complete their courses at Nassau and then move into Adelphi?”
The Nassau-Adelphi Gateway program was their answer.
As a part of the program, about 30 Nassau Community College students will be able to live on Adelphi’s campus, taking a three-mile shuttle ride between the two institutions to attend their courses. Students who choose not to live on campus can still sign up for meal plans, go to university events and participate in various other aspects of campus life.
Jermaine F. Williams, president of Nassau Community College, said the program offers students “truly the best of both worlds: a high-quality and affordable education from Nassau Community College and also the opportunity to experience the co-curricular opportunities of a fantastic four-year institution.”
Nassau students will be able to transfer to Adelphi with all their general education requirements fulfilled once they earn their associate degrees. Advisers at the community college and members of Adelphi’s transfer student success team will guide students through the transfer process, and all application and deposit fees will be waived.
Williams said creating an extra-smooth pathway for students to earn their bachelor’s degrees aligns with Nassau’s mission as a Hispanic-serving institution, where approximately a third of students are Latinx and a fifth are Black. He believes the model can help retain students of color and increase their college completion rates.
The program is rooted in the idea that “helping students identify an academic path that leads to transfer as sophomore status and provides early engagement opportunities at the receiving institution will increase completion and postcompletion success for our students and also decrease equity gaps,” he said. “That’s really one of the foundational pieces for this partnership.”
Another aim of the program is to help Nassau Community College increase enrollment, Capezza said. Community colleges across the country experienced steep enrollment declines during the pandemic as classes shifted online and students wrestled with the financial challenges of an economic downturn. Nassau Community College enrollment dropped from 16,650 students in fall 2019 to 13,864 students in fall 2020, an almost 16.7 percent decline.
“We started to brainstorm with them -- how can we help community colleges regain and reattract enrollment in a way that’s going to benefit the student, in a way that’s going to put the student first and make sure that they’ve got a supportive framework around them?” Capezza said.
Undergraduate enrollment at Adelphi also fell during the pandemic, from 5,360 in fall 2019 to 5,124 students in fall 2020. Capezza said she expects to see an increase in Adelphi's transfer pool in two years as a result of the program.
Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh is also embarking on a community college partnership with a housing option this coming fall. Students from four community colleges in the area can take up to 12 credits at the university -- at their community college’s tuition rate -- while working toward their associate degrees. Participants in good academic standing are also eligible for annual scholarships of $3,000 to $12,000. The community college students can also engage in campus activities and live in Robert Morris dorms before they transfer.
So far, just a “handful” of students chose to live on campus this fall, “but it’s a start,” said Chris Howard, president of Robert Morris. He said community college students who don't live on campus are still welcome, and encouraged, to take part in the social life on the university.
“We want them attending social events, athletic events, eating in the eating facilities. We want them to immerse themselves … It’s meant to be an ecosystem that supports all of these folks. Whether they’re living on campus, we want them to feel like a part of the family from day one.”
Articulation agreements and dual-enrollment initiatives between community colleges and four-year institutions have proliferated over the last decade, including transfer pathways that allow community college students to use some university amenities, said Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit organization focused on community college student success. The residential component, however, “takes the engagement another step further and deeper.”
She noted that demand for campus-based housing is growing among community college students, so these partnerships can benefit them while helping universities fill empty dorm space.
Adding a housing option to these partnerships is “a natural evolution,” she said. “You’re seeing more and more of these co-sharing, blended options as these institutions have to meet not just student needs but more dynamic business needs as well.”
If this is a trend, it isn’t full-blown yet. Capezza said she’s seen few programs featuring university campus housing for community college students.
“We actually think this is one of the most unique models,” she said.
Binghamton University and SUNY Broome Community College, both part of the State University of New York system, were early adopters of a partnership model with a housing component. The Binghamton Advantage program started in fall 2011 with a cohort of 39 SUNY Broome students who lived on the Binghamton campus in preparation to transfer. Now more than 200 students enter the program each year.
Of the 1,628 students who participated in the program in the last decade, about 80 percent of them -- a total of 1,327 students -- enrolled at Binghamton. Their completion rates are on par with the overall completion rates for the university, said Brian Rose, vice president of student affairs at Binghamton.
“We believed, and I think the history of the program bears out, that [living on campus] would provide additional motivation,” he said. “Surrounding yourself with successful students and creating a stake in wanting to stay a part of that community, I think, were all factors in making more of those students successful.”
While he counts the program as a success, implementing Binghamton Advantage also came with challenges, Rose added. When students take classes on one campus and live on another, they don’t necessarily know which institution is responsible for which supports. Staff at the college and university had to meet regularly to iron out the “granular details” over time.
He encourages other universities to explore these housing partnerships, but “the advice I give is there’s a lot of devil in the detail,” he said. “Paying attention to making sure there are constant communications and coordination across those institutions to navigate all those things -- you have to make that investment.”
Rose believes Binghamton's investment paid off. He said the model came with expected benefits, such as a pool of prospective new students for SUNY Broome, but it also came with an unforeseen advantage: it laid the foundation for an ongoing relationship between the two institutions beyond the program because campus leaders work so closely together. For example, administrators are currently discussing a potential partnership where international students could enroll in Binghamton but take English as a second language courses at the community college.
“It’s been an important benefit that I don’t think either of us necessarily identified at the front end,” he said. “But we both value it now.”