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Agreement makes associate degrees more accessible to transfer students

Published: Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 9:02 p.m. CDT

SUGAR GROVE — Northern Illinois University and Waubonsee Community College have agreed to develop a process that will allow NIU students who transferred from Waubonsee without an associate degree to earn the two-year degree using credit from NIU courses.

“We are launching a pilot project this fall that will help qualified NIU students earn an additional credential,” said Vice Provost Anne Birberick, “by transferring NIU credits needed for an associate degree back to Waubonsee. This opportunity brings an excellent benefit to students.”

Regional and national data make clear that the associate degree is a valuable commodity. Employees with associate degrees typically earn an average of $7,200 per year more than employees with no post-secondary credentials — almost $600,000 more in salary over a lifetime.

“A number of NIU students were close to completing an associate degree when they transferred,” said Deborah Lovingood, Waubonsee Community College executive vice president, Educational Affairs/chief learning officer.

“This agreement will allow those students to complete the associate degrees at the same time they are earning the baccalaureate. A seamless transfer process that goes both ways serves everyone and demonstrates the interdependence of our institutions.”

Lovingood commented that students often do not know what personal, health or economic factors might interfere with completion of bachelor’s degree studies at NIU.

“For that reason, completion of an associate degree is an excellent investment,” she said.

In this case, the investment is not financial. Once qualified NIU transfer students from Waubonsee are identified, the students will have an opportunity to give NIU permission to send data about their NIU courses and grades to Waubonsee. Staff from Waubonsee will advise the NIU students on their progress toward an associate degree. Once students have met the Waubonsee requirements with a combination of courses from the two institutions, they will become eligible for a diploma. The data exchange and award of a Waubonsee diploma will be done free of charge to participating NIU students.

“Academic credentials count,” said Anne Kaplan, NIU vice president for Outreach, Engagement and Learning Technologies. “When our region can document a high level of well-educated employees, we can attract business and investment. This project will increase the number of diplomas earned, which benefits the region and both our institutions.”

NIU Registrar Jerry Montag explained that the process to be piloted this fall will make reverse transfer and earning associate degrees as simple and transparent as possible for NIU students.

Birberick stated that NIU intends to expand the reverse transfer pilot project to other community colleges as soon as the process is working smoothly. “NIU enrolls a high number of transfer students from many community colleges. We know that many of our community college partners are very interested in helping students from their colleges earn associate degrees. Everyone is focused on what is good for the students. This looks like a win-win-win proposition.”

The reverse transfer pilot project resulted from an agreement signed by NIU President John Peters and Waubonsee Community College President Christine Sobek in August.

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