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.