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Community Colleges Jump Ahead of MBR, Sign Agreement with Western Governors University

With the higher education mid-biennium review bill not clearing the Legislature before it went on its summer break, Ohio community colleges went on their own initiative and signed an agreement with the online Western Governors University (WGU) to provide opportunities that the MBR bill called for. 

The Ohio Association of Community Colleges (OACC) joined with representatives of WGU to sign the agreement, which will allow community college graduates to transfer their credits seamlessly to WGU, plus allow nursing students to work towards their bachelor’s and master’s degrees while attending a community college campus.

The so-called “three plus one” model was a feature of HB474 (Brown), the higher ed MBR, which called for the Ohio Department of Higher Education to explore partnerships between community colleges and state universities that allow students to attend a community college campus for three years and a university campus for one year as part of a bachelor’s degree program. 

Another item in the bill would recognize WGU as a public institution and foster agreements with Ohio institutions to offer competency-based curriculum. 

Jack Hershey, president of OACC, said Tuesday that community colleges can sometimes move faster than the legislative process, and recognized the good ideas put forth in the MBR. He said they wanted to move forward with some of those ideas, which led to the signing of the agreement. 

In addition to the associate degree transfer program, which allows a seamless transfer from all 23 community colleges in the state, students are also eligible for a 5 percent tuition discount from WGU, and once they earn their associate degree, community college graduates can access scholarship funds up to $2,000. 

The three plus one option will allow students to take their first three years of classes at a community college and finish their bachelor’s degree in nursing online through WGU, or have an option to finish a master’s degree in two years. 

WGU President Scott Pulsipher noted his university serves the underserved, with at least 71 percent of students representing that category. He also said that students in their program are not constrained by time, they can learn as fast as they want to learn. 

He said WGU is still interested in being recognized as an Ohio institution, an item in the MBR, and the possibilities it opens. 

Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey said the Kasich administration is “keyed” on competency-based education, and the partnership with WGU builds on that. He said it will allow students who had to drop out of college to be able to continue their education. He also said Gov. John Kasich wants technology to be able to make higher education more accessible, and the agreement meets that qualification.

Para Jones, president of Stark State College, said most of Ohio’s community colleges have a nursing program with highly competent and licensed graduates. She said the ability for adult students to be able to complete their bachelor’s degrees through WGU “will make a big difference.” She also said the ability to get a master’s degree will be good for schools that are having difficulty finding faculty who possess a MSN who can teach. 

Hershey said OACC is already discussing similar agreements with other institutions. He said the MBR language pushed the Ohio Department of Higher Education to help foster agreements, and community colleges are just moving ahead based on those suggestions.

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on October 11, 2016.  Copyright 2016 Hannah News Service, Inc.