DePaul University attracted 2,500 transfer students last year.
Those students generally do well -- they average a 3.2 GPA, and 70 percent graduate within five years. But historically, too many have ended up running in place, said Lois Bishop, director of community college partnerships. Most of DePaul’s transfers came from two-year institutions, where many excelled but accumulated credits that won’t count toward their bachelor’s degree, or failed to take prerequisite courses. That can increase their time to degree and negate the cost savings that may have led them to a community college in the first place.
A program that DePaul launched last year aims to fix those problems by attracting more community college transfers, making it easier for them to earn a bachelor’s degree on time, and ensuring they also receive a two-year credential.
The idea of a four-year college partnering with a two-year college isn't new. But rarely is the four-year institution a large, private university with selective admissions that offers advising throughout the student’s time at a community college. It is rarer still for the four-year school to award credit that students can use to finish their associate degrees.
But students in the DePaul Admission Partnership Program  are guaranteed a spot at the nation’s largest Roman Catholic college if they finish their community college studies with a 2.0 GPA, and they receive $2,000 a year after transferring if they achieve a 3.0.
They also lock in their bachelor’s degree requirements if they enroll at DePaul within three years of starting the program and receive access to DePaul advisers while at the community college. That ensures they don’t take the wrong math class for their eventual major or enroll in a world history class when only a U.S. history class will do. And if they transfer a few credits short of an associate degree, their DePaul classes can help them earn that credential.
The program has already been adopted by four suburban community colleges and the seven-institution City Colleges of Chicago system, and DePaul hopes to grow it further. The first group of 81 students enrolled last fall, and will begin transferring in the fall of 2013.
At Harper College, a suburban two-year institution about 30 miles from DePaul’s downtown Chicago campus, 16 students are part of the new program. For Harper enrollment dean Maria Moten, being able to guarantee students that their credits will transfer is vital. In the past, students could take classes at Harper with a specific university and degree program in mind. But if the university's degree requirements changed, they could be out of luck.
“It’s so important to have that partnership so the students as they step to the four year institution know what to expect,” she said.
The reverse credit program is also important. Sometimes students transfer before earning their associate’s degree, Moten said, and then have to leave the four-year college for one reason or another. Even if they’ve finished three years of schooling, they might still lack a two-year credential that could increase their earnings potential. If nothing else, an associate degree can help students find more lucrative part-time employment while they're at a university.
DePaul is distinctive in offering its admissions partnership program as an option for the 3,700 or so undergraduate applicants it rejects every year. Information on how to one day transfer is included with rejection letters, and the new program would be an option for students whose community colleges have signed up. While that scope makes DePaul’s partnership unique, other four-year colleges in the Chicago area and elsewhere have agreements with their two-year counterparts.
City Colleges of Chicago has partnerships with the University of Illinois at Chicago and private colleges like the Illinois Institute of Technology and Roosevelt University. Northern Virginia Community College  has agreements with a dozen universities, and public colleges in Iowa  offer a reverse credit arrangement similar to DePaul's.
DePaul has long reached out to community colleges. It historically educated immigrants, and then moved to nontraditional and adult students, though it now enrolls many 18-year-old freshmen.
Jon Boeckenstedt, DePaul’s assistant vice president for enrollment management, sees value in keeping those ties to transfer students. The admissions partnership program, he said, is a way to ensure both the college and the transfer students benefit.
“It’s really in our DNA,” he said. “We want to establish ourselves as good partners with the community colleges.”