“Western 2 Step” Aims at Smoothing Community College Transfers

RALEIGH – A new partnership between Western Carolina University and the North Carolina Community College System intends to help students transfer more seamlessly between the two systems and reduce the amount of time needed to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

The partnership, known as the Western 2 Step, was announced during a presentation held at the General Assembly on May 9. It will provide detailed information about which community college courses will apply toward a bachelor’s degree at Western Carolina.

Western Carolina Chancellor John Bardo said that the partnership would apply to all 58 community colleges.

The partnership builds on a 1997 agreement between the community colleges and the UNC system, as well as other articulation pacts. North Carolina Community College System President Martin Lancaster called the partnership the next step in the development of those agreements.

What’s different is that the Western 2 Step program spells out which courses a student can take at a community college in order to complete a bachelor’s degree in a specific field at Western. Thus, Bardo said, it will help students progress with not only the associate degree requirement, but also their bachelor’s degree.

Bardo said the partnership addresses the problem that community college advisors do not know which courses at their college will be accepted for specific majors. For instance, current articulation agreements for a B.S. in history list what a student needs to transfer into a UNC system school, but they do not specify the courses at a community college that will meet the requirements for a B.S. in that field.

Without that information, Bardo said, some students must simply guess which courses to take in their two years at community college. Without proper preparation, said Lancaster, they may have to add an extra semester or even a year as they make up for prerequisites in order to progress in their baccalaureate program.

All 78 undergraduate programs at Western Carolina are included in the agreement, Bardo said.

“It allows these students to minimize the time it takes to get a degree,” Bardo said. “It minimizes the cost of the degree.”

Under the agreement, students would have to get an associate’s degree at a community college in order to transfer into Western Carolina. Bardo said that is because students with an associate’s degree who transfer into the UNC system have shown that they are prepared for the rigors of higher education.

Between 2000 and 2005, transfers from community colleges into the UNC system have increased by 34 percent. Lancaster said that the partnership could increase enrollment at Western Carolina through an increase community college transfers.

“This is an exciting opportunity for all community college students,” Lancaster said.