By M.L. Dehm HBJ Freelance Writer
EVERETT — Many students opt to start their academic careers at a community college in order to save money. Others simply like the convenience of staying near home. But new statistics suggest that a community college may give them an advantage if they transfer to a four-year university.
Recently released performance figures from Everett Community College show that students who have transferred from EvCC to most four-year public colleges in Washington do as well as or better than students who started at the same four-year school as freshmen.
In 2011, EvCC transfers to the University of Washington-Bothell had a grade-point average of 3.47. Their peers, who had been at the four-year school since freshman year, had a 3.15 GPA. Also in 2011, the EvCC students who transferred to Western Washington University as juniors and seniors held an average 3.45 GPA while their resident WWU counterparts had a 3.27 GPA.
The figures come as no surprise to Everett Community College President David Beyer.
“I attribute a lot of it to the quality of teaching that they receive here at Everett Community College,” Beyer said. “The faculty are very committed to student success and are focused on teaching and learning. This makes a significant difference in how students perform when they leave.”
Fang Lin, an EvCC transfer student who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington last year, believes that smaller class sizes at EvCC provided her with a solid foundation prior to her transfer to UW.
“The classes are smaller and the teachers had more time for us,” Lin said. “You learn a lot. I was very well prepared.”
She also appreciated the guidance and resources that EvCC offered. Lin, a native of China, entered the school as an ESL student and wasn’t sure what career she wanted to pursue. It was after discussions with her EvCC adviser that she opted to enter the engineering transfer degree program.
“I think picking your major is really important,” Lin said. “Most people say to just go with your passion. But I think it is worth your time to go and talk with your advisers and with the people who work in the profession that you think you are interested in and see if the major makes sense for you or not.”
With the help of EvCC’s advisers and resources, Lin chose a degree path that led to graduation and employment in her chosen field.
EvCC offers several degree transfer programs. Transfer degrees don’t guarantee admission to the state’s four-year schools, but they do help and definitely provide a solid academic foundation.
EvCC offers preparation classes and workshops for potential transfer students and the opportunity to speak individually with representatives from the universities they plan to attend. This can be especially helpful, Lin pointed out, as not all credits will transfer to all four-year schools. Each school is different.
Kim Williams, chief nursing officer for Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, credits part of her success to the solid foundation she received from EvCC. Unlike Lin, Williams did not immediately use her associate degree in nursing from EvCC to transfer to a four-year school. She went to work first and didn’t transfer to Western Washington University to complete her bachelor’s degree until several years later, when she wanted to pursue an occupational leadership position.
Williams, who has also served on the school’s University Center advisory board, is even more impressed with the EvCC nursing program now than she was when she graduated from the program herself.
“You can get your bachelor’s without leaving campus now,” Williams said. That’s something she would have done had the opportunity been available when she was a student.
Now, as chief nursing officer at Providence, Williams works with many EvCC graduates and she likes what she sees. Last year, EvCC-trained nurses had a pass rate of 92 percent on the registered nurse licensing exam.
“Their associate-degree nurses are good strong nurses,” Williams said. She likes their firm science background, their ability to prioritize and the relevant clinical experience they receive that lets them successfully make the transition from college to workplace.
The transition from student to practicing nurse is often difficult and it’s why Providence used a residency program in the past, Williams said. EvCC will soon offer a new program to address this issue by adapting a solution that has already been used elsewhere in the U.S.
“A dedicated education unit is a unit where one of the sixth-quarter clinical cohort groups from the college will be based exclusively in one of our nursing units,” Williams said.
Working with the nursing unit in this way, students are able to form better relationships with the clinical staff, something that has been shown to increase competency and offer a better transition for them later.
EvCC students also share a simulation lab with Providence staff, Williams said. Specialized mannequins let students and staff practice new or sensitive procedures before performing them on patients. The mannequins are realistic enough that students can put in IVs.
Nursing isn’t the only program that EvCC is known for. Beyer hesitated to single out any one program but noted that its aerospace programs have been popular and successful. Figures show that EvCC students have a 100 percent pass rate on the FAA’s general, airframe and powerplant exams so far.
The school’s Division of Aerospace &Advanced Manufacturing Careers is working with local industries to ensure that a steady supply of well-trained employees is available to support the community and, ultimately, the local economy. Some employers recruit new graduates directly from the school.
“Our welding program is a big program,” Beyer said. “Those students come out with some very definite skills and a living wage.”
He noted that before the job market shrank, many of the welding program students had a job lined up before they had completed their coursework.
Beyer is also excited about the school’s relationship with Washington State University and its new mechanical engineering bachelor’s degree program that starts this fall. Those engineering students will earn their four-year WSU degrees directly on the EvCC campus.
“Over half the students entering that program are from Everett Community College’s pre-engineering program,” Beyer said. “We’re looking forward to other degrees down the road.”
EvCC tries hard to serve the community by offering programs, courses and schedules to fit the needs of the community, the president said.
“There are thousands of people who have graduated from Everett Community College and gone on to professions or to higher education and then to their professions,” Beyer said. “This is typical of the community college. People want to remain with their community. They want to make their permanent homes here and be a part of the community.”
Belt-tightening and rising costs have hit community colleges as hard as they’ve hit other institutions. The state has cut its funding to EvCC by 22 percent in the last few years, yet more students than ever are turning to community colleges because tuition costs less than half that of a public four-year school.
For Beyer and his staff, the challenge has been to develop strategies to best serve the 21,274 EvCC students within a tighter budget. Last year, the school became one of 16 in the state to join the Achieving the Dream program whose aim is to identify the school’s strengths in order to offer students the best possible education. As part of the program, the school earned a $550,000 grant from College Spark Washington.
EvCC has also expanded its geographic footprint as many north Everett residents may have noticed.
“This next spring we’ll be opening up our 75,000-square-foot Health Sciences building and that puts us right on Broadway,” Beyer said.
Williams, too, looks forward to the new building that will feature a Providence health care clinic on the ground floor.
EvCC will keep serving the community while providing good value for education dollars and a steady stream of well-educated graduates. The figures show they seem to be doing both.