“If you want to increase access to the professions for people of color, there’s only really one way to do it—and that’s to draw a direct line from transfer to the professions,” says Valencia College president Sandy Shugart.

Valencia College’s president is speaking about DirectConnect to UCF, a program that guarantees transfer admissions for students from four regional public colleges–Eastern Florida State College, Lake-Sumter State College, Valencia College and Seminole State College–to the University of Central Florida in Orlando. DirectConnect students get the security of guaranteed admission to UCF as well as extra advising resources. They can even earn UCF bachelor’s degrees without leaving their local college campuses.

The highly successful program was profiled earlier this month for the National Journal, a well-regarded Washington DC magazine about policy and politics widely read by federal lawmakers, national think tanks and White House staff.

Why are they so interested in DirectConnect?

Because it works to increase the college completion rate for first-generation and minority students and thrives on collaboration between higher education institutions.  In 2012, the program was recognized as America’s top program for increasing academic opportunities and success for Latino students at the associate level.

The program also enables local college students to take some, if not all, their UCF classes at one of four regional campuses. That appeals to students in outlying counties unable to afford the commute to UCF in central Orlando.

At Valencia’s Osceola Campus, some students commute two and a half hours by bus to get to class. UCF’s main campus is another hour’s drive away by car, on a toll road. “It’s just so out of the realm of possibility for so many of our students to drive to UCF’s main campus,” says Osceola Campus President Kathleen Plinske. Many students can’t afford, or don’t want, to leave home and find housing on or close to UCF.

Now nearly eight years old, the program is a shining example of how Florida’s postsecondary institutions can collaborate to focus on student needs and put a 4-year degree within reach of first-generation, low-income and minority students.

Here’s more on the success of the program included in the National Journal article.

Associate’s’ degree transfers now make up 48 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded by UCF, the highest share of any Florida university. Without any grade or test score requirements, DirectConnect students graduate at a slightly higher rate than native UCF students with only slightly lower GPAs overall, Shugart says. The transfer agreement hasn’t hindered UCF’s efforts to improve its academic reputation, and it has helped partner colleges like Valencia recruit and graduate associate’s degree students.

The agreement has also added diversity to UCF’s graduating class. In 2012-13, 31 percent of some 4,800 bachelor’s degrees granted to native UCF students went to minority students. Forty percent of the more than 7,200 bachelor’s degrees awarded to Florida College transfers went to minority students.

Central Florida is lucky to have this program as well as higher education leaders who believe in collaboration. Here’s hoping that DirectConnect inspires other education and civic leaders to learn from its success.

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