Culture Wars about College Admissions Tend to Ignore Guaranteed Entry from Virginia Community Colleges

by James C. Sherlock

Much angst has accompanied the Supreme Court’s decision banning overt racial preferences in admissions to colleges as violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

The conversations in the comments to Jim Bacon’s article on admissions were as split philosophically/politically as is anything else these days.

I will not rehash them.

But many of the comments seemed based on an unwritten assumption that a kid is blocked from higher education if not admitted into a four-year college out of high school.

That, if true, would indeed be a cruel fate. And headline-seeking race hustlers who tell such kids they have been permanently disadvantaged would have a point.

But such a tale is objectively and observably not true. Anyone who tells a kid that is lying, and lying unforgivably.

There are 250,000 Virginia students who prove the story false.

There is a major and routinely successful alternative path in Virginia both:

  • to high-paying jobs not requiring a 4-year degree; and
  • to Virginia’s 4-year colleges and universities.

Those quarter of a million Virginians to whom I referred attend the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). That exceeds the 221,000 who attend Virginia’s fifteen public 4-year colleges and universities.

VCCS is there for the portion of the population that is unprepared for, unable to afford or indeed uninterested in a four-year college coming out of high school.

For those interested in but unprepared for a 4-year college degree, the community colleges offer remedial courses to bring them up to speed before they attempt college-level work. Before they attempt high-skilled job training. Before they submit community college transcripts of qualifying courses to the state’s 4-year institutions of higher learning.

That path is available to students from bad schools or any that want to change their academic trajectory. Classes can be scheduled around jobs. If a student performs well enough, transfer to state 4-year institutions is guaranteed by state policy.

To quote a wonderful and accurate advertisement for those schools: “From (there) you can go anywhere.”

Guaranteed admissions. Such discussions here inevitably drift to the University of Virginia. So let’s look there.

The average college GPA for a transfer student admitted to UVa is 3.5. That GPA must include the proper courses on the transcript. Nearly half of the 600 transfer students who enrolled at UVa in the fall of 2023 started their higher education in the Virginia Community College System.

Go to the University’s informative Guaranteed Transfer Admission page.

This is the University of Virginia’s contribution to the State Policy on Transfer endorsed by the State board of Community Colleges and the State Council of Higher Education. It is designed to inform community college academic counselors and prospective transfer students about our transfer policies.

You will see there transfer agreements between four colleges of the University and the Chancellor of the VCCS. One is that of the College of Arts and Sciences. There are others from the School of Nursing, the Engineering School and Richard Bland College.

Added up, competitive VCCS transcripts demonstrate to admissions officials that the student not only can do the work, but has done the work well enough to presage successful completion of a degree at the University. It offers a much more predictive resume than one from a high school senior.

A student who satisfies the Agreement linked above will enter the College of Arts and Sciences as a third-year student. Importantly for many students, when applying as a third-year student, high school work is deemphasized by admissions officers in favor of college results.

Indeed UVa has a model program that for the past two years UVA has been building an infrastructure to welcome community college transfer students, and to retain them through special counseling programs.

Piedmont Virginia Community College in the Charlottesville area has transfer agreements with all 15 state IHLs as well as five private colleges in Virginia. Look at those of Northern Virginia Community College.

Beyond the guaranteed transfer admissions agreements, the Transfer Course Requirements page lists courses necessary for transfer to every undergraduate school at the University.

Bottom line. I don’t in any way minimize the challenges to young people disadvantaged by troubled and dangerous neighborhoods and bad K-12 schools. Or others who have aptitude but who have not acquired a college-ready education for any reason.

Everything in their lives will be harder than it should have been.

I advocate vigorously for school choice to address some of Virginia’s bad K-12 schools that have been awful for decades. It is a proven solution, but teachers’ unions oppose it, so it is off the table for every elected Democrat.

Virginia’s lack of school choice is an ongoing disgrace, especially since school choice is opposed most strongly by the same people who scream loudest about systemic racism.

But Virginia does have a proven, indeed guaranteed, way for those motivated to go to college to make up the ground lost to bad schools or bad performance and, having done it, to transfer to the best state 4-year college or university for which they qualify.

That won’t help every kid, but colleges need to actively recruit for that program and, like UVa, provide additional supports as necessary to kids who will put in the work.

Updated July 5 at 0745 to acknowledge UVa’s welcoming and retention program for community college students and provide links to extensive college guarantee agreements with PVCC and NVCC.

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19 responses to “Culture Wars about College Admissions Tend to Ignore Guaranteed Entry from Virginia Community Colleges”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    You are correct. I am embarrassed that I overlooked this option, especially considering I took a course at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College this past spring.

  2. Kevin Brown Avatar
    Kevin Brown

    Great point about equal opportunity and leveling of the playing field for those willing to do the work.

  3. M. Purdy Avatar
    M. Purdy

    The CC guaranteed entry program is fantastic, and should be adopted by elite private institutions as well.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      That is an excellent idea.

  4. M. Purdy Avatar
    M. Purdy

    The CC guaranteed entry program is fantastic, and should be adopted by elite private institutions as well.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Even if it’s VPCC and no longer TNCC, there are many who completed their first 60 there and their last 60 at W&M, UVa, etc.

    1. WayneS Avatar

      And their Bachelor’s Degrees are from W&M, UVA, etc., the same as those of the 4-year students.

      Once you’ve earned the degree, where/how you started out no longer matters.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Absolutely. It’s the last 60 hours that count. Any transfer credits show up as the equivalent course from the graduating institution.

        If a student takes Physics 121 from VPCC and the equivalent at UVa is Physics 115, then the transcript will show Physics 115.

        Even more to the point, if a student takes The Analysis Of Fluid Dynamics at one college’s engineering department, it may transfer as Advanced Partial Differential Equations in the mathematics department at another college. It’s content oriented.

  6. All of my USMIL-students went to a VCC for two years before transferring to VT to make their GI Bill go farther —- smart!

  7. You raise an excellent point, Jim. The two African-American students I’ve gotten to know well at UVa both transferred from community colleges. Both are fine young men of admirable character. I’ll have to ask them about their community-college experience.

  8. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    100% agree the VCCS is a great deal all around and has clearly made the difference in the lives of many young people. It should be promoted and supported aggressively.

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      G3 program is a winner. Tuition free! You can get a CDL in ten weeks with guaranteed employment. Might be the fastest way to a six figure salary. Many programs to choose from. One of Ralph Northam’s better moments.

  9. Bubba1855 Avatar

    I don’t know how relevant this is today. Long time ago I taught a
    math 101 night course in a CC in the Philadelphia area. Class started
    out with 20 students. 2 weeks later I was down to 10. For the final
    exam only 5 showed up. Years later, I was living in South Carolina
    (Charlotte metro area) and taught a similar course. Same kind of
    results. Tuition for these courses was basically zero. 20 years ago, I
    lived in Alabama. Their CC’s allowed you to take night courses and if
    you completed 15 semester hours of credits with a B- average you could
    transfer to Auburn or Alabama. My personal experience with CC’s is
    basically this…lots of kids sign up, but when they realize that it’s
    not high school they drop out. I have a niece who went to our local CC a
    few years ago. I told her before she started that CC and college is
    not like high school. Sadly, she wasn’t able to put in the time and
    effort. I congratulate everyone who does complete
    the academic requirements to move on to a 4 yr school…yes…they have
    determination…however, most have not the slightest idea what is
    required to get B’s at a college level.

    are a great idea. Low cost, flexible schedules, etc. Those who don’t
    ‘cut it’ find out early with virtually no student loans.

    sadly, many who manage to get into UVA and other tier 1 universities in
    VA are going to find out that matriculating is different from getting
    feel, without much data to support this opinion, that student loans
    have encouraged many who are not otherwise prepared to do college level
    work to ‘sign up’. Then colleges use various methods to get these lower
    performing students to continue to attend and get more student loans
    which keeps them in school and keeps the cash flow coming to the
    college/univ. I’m not expert…just my opinion.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      The troubled and unmotivated group you are talking about are not the ones who will complete the rigorous syllabus with the kinds of grades required for guaranteed admission in the Virginia program. Apples and oranges.

  10. VaPragamtist Avatar

    While I agree with the sentiment of this post, as with any state policy or program, it’s a bit more complicated than it seems on the surface. . .

    First, students have to know about the program. They have to come from schools with adequate guidance counselors who can help students explore their options, including this one. They have to have the ability to map out their trajectory. And they need to be willing to sacrifice the traditional 4-year college experience (developing the relationships and community from freshman to senior year), in exchange for the financial benefits of the program.

    Second, depending on the CC and the 4-year, the CC courses may not be as rigorous. Granted, they’re basically the general education courses; but if one or two of the gen ed courses are the basis for a student’s major in the 4-year, and subsequent courses build on those skills they’ll want to keep that in mind.

    Finally (and most importantly), each university has a standard for “Satisfactory Academic Progress” (SAP). As a Virginia resident, you’re charged in-state tuition. SAP is used to determine your eligibility for federal aid and in-state tuition. If you don’t maintain a certain GPA, if you don’t make sufficient progress toward your degree, or if you’s taken too many credit hours in your college career, federal aid or in-state tuition can be impacted. This is a surprise for some, especially those transferring from community colleges. The credit hours taken at the CC count toward SAP. . .meaning that the student only has 2ish years to complete the degree before they’re charged out-of-state tuition. While many traditional students go into a 4-year and test the waters of a major before switching, take multiple majors, take a semester abroad, and take underwater basket weaving or other throwaway fun classes, CC transfers have less opportunity for indecisiveness. It’s part of the sacrifice I mentioned earlier, but knowing that going in and planning their trajectory all requires a good support system at both the high school and CC they attend.

  11. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    I don’t know what the demand v. supply is for qualified community college candidates with the right transcript courses and a 3.5 or above.

    If the ratio is high, accommodations should be made to admit more.

    For example, let’s say UVa has 350 fully qualified candidates for third year admission out of the community colleges but is only planning on admitting 280.

    Given the real dedication those students have shown and the obstacles many have overcome, I would recommend taking steps, including adding sections to third and fourth year courses, to admit them.

    That would bring to the University – and to the 14 other Virginia public colleges and universities – additional diversity of life experience and economic status accompanied by proven merit.

    1. When you transfer you lose your GPA – so you start with 0.0, but many courses count so they come in as a high Sophomore or Junior.

  12. Lefty665 Avatar

    Community colleges are a great deal. After a wasted year at a liberal arts college a AAS in business administration got me into the RPI/VCU B school where I hung around far too long. but that’s another story.

    Also, there are other routes to middle class incomes for kids who can read and write, trade schools. Plumbers, electricians, IT techs, auto mechanics, carpenters, etc. WSJ had a story this week on auto mechanics. Annual demand 250k, annual supply 48k. Average wage over $1k a week. Not a fortune, but middle class in America. It is not automatic failure to lack a 4 year college degree.

    Trades and CCs have been the steppingstones to decent middle class lives for a lot of people. Their kids can go to 4 year schools, and their grand kids to elite schools. Honest money beats the hell out of a wasted street corner life of low level drug dealing, petty crime, jail and fathering more kids who will not likely be able to read and write either.

    Plus, there is integrity in people who work for a living. At this point I have more in common with the plumbers and carpenters I pick music with than some of the docs and lawyers in my family. In the ’70s neo liberal elites dumped the New Deal working poor and middle class populism that drove the Dem party to a solid ruling majority for 40 years. Subsequently, fat cats, black, LGBTQ+, et al identity politics have been only marginally successful and are tearing the country apart.

  13. Paul Sweet Avatar
    Paul Sweet

    Virginia’s community colleges offer many benefits in addition to
    guaranteed transfer to a state 4-year college. Many nursing assistants and health care technicians receive their training at a community college. Most of the colleges offer building trades training that unions or apprenticeship programs used to
    offer. Blue Ridge Community College offers one of the few aviation maintenance programs in the country, and they have also trained most of the veterinary technicians in the state. Many community colleges offer specialized workforce training programs such as commercial drivers license, electric lineman, solar installation, etc.

    Students who start at a community college probably get better and more individualized instruction in their introductory courses than many students in a 4-year college do. VCCS professors are teachers first of all, not researchers who have to teach a course so they teach an easy course that doesn’t distract from their research, or graduate student teaching assistants. Class sizes are reasonable; I don’t know of any community college introductory courses taught in 500 seat auditoriums. The only college experiences a student who starts at a community college lacks are fraternity parties and, in most cases, living away from home.

    Community colleges also can benefit those who already have a degree. They can go back and take courses in subjects they are interested in, but didn’t have time to take in college. They offer bookkeeping and other business related courses that can help somebody who has a degree in their field go into business for themself.

    (Disclaimer: I benefited from this continuing education. I also worked for VCCS for 14 years before retiring.)

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