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By Susan Kinzie
Thursday, April 13, 2006; B02
It just got easier to get into the University of Virginia. Community college students who get good grades and meet other requirements at two-year programs in Virginia will be guaranteed admission to U-Va., one of the most selective universities in the country.
U-Va. is one of a growing number of schools to ease transfers for community college students as part of a push to increase diversity, especially economic diversity, on campus. The University of Maryland announced a program last year, and last month, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation announced a $27 million investment in high-achieving students from two-year colleges. Eight schools received grants for scholarships and other assistance: Amherst College, Bucknell University, Cornell University, Mount Holyoke College, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Southern California.
Perceptions of community colleges are changing, said Norma Kent of the American Association of Community Colleges. Four-year schools "are looking for greater diversity among their students, and there's been an awakening on the need to better serve low-income students."
"We think it's about time," she added.
National research has shown that the vast majority of students at the country's most selective colleges continue to be middle class or wealthy.
And community colleges nationwide say their demographics have been changing, with more younger students enrolling. The average age is 29, and 42 percent are 21 or younger, Kent said.
The transfer process has been rocky across the country for years, a higher education expert said, as schools and faculties have struggled to coordinate course requirements and ensure that students arrive prepared and don't lose credits.
In Virginia, leaders have encouraged universities to open their doors to more community college students as part of the state's evolving public higher education system. The state is braced for surging enrollments as the population of college-age students grows.
At U-Va., the state's flagship university, the program begins immediately. Students will be guaranteed a spot if they have received an associate's degree at a Virginia community college within two years of applying, had a grade-point average of 3.4 or higher (nothing below a C in any course or below a B in introductory English), met course distribution requirements and earned enough transferable credit hours. Those who don't meet all the requirements may apply but are not guaranteed admission.
Greg Roberts, associate dean of admission, said that he doesn't think the changes will allow less-qualified students to get in -- these are the same types of transfer students they've always sought out, he said -- but that this will give students a clear road map of how to get into U-Va. The school hopes to see more students from underrepresented areas of the state, such as the southwest and the Eastern Shore, who might not have known that they could afford a U-Va. degree.
"I'm really very pleased that U-Va. has done this," said Shirley Levin, an independent college counselor in Rockville. "It's one of the few really prestigious public universities that has made that kind of commitment. . . .
"Sometimes going to community college is the best idea -- and certainly the most economical."
© 2006 The Washington Post Company