The negotiations required a high level of trust from UCF. It took on an obligation to smaller colleges that don’t turn people away and offer a lot of remedial courses. The community colleges took on the job of making sure their graduates showed up at the university prepared to be juniors.
“We all have drunk the same water and believe that we can do more together than we can do competing against one another. It sounds like mom and apple pie, but it really is true,” said UCF Provost Tony Waldrop.
The university has advisory offices on all the community-college campuses served by Direct Connect, and all the staff advisers are in constant contact. Students in Valencia’s elite honors program are automatically enrolled in UCF’s honors program, and the university periodically offers free football tickets to community-college students.
It can be difficult for some students (or their parents) to accept that they will spend their first college years on a campus that offers more technical certificates than student-life activities. Romano said that it drives her crazy when students transfer to UCF before finishing all of their prerequisites. The university’s courses are more expensive, and students who leave prematurely risk running out of financial aid.
Still, Romano understands the yearning to move beyond an uber-practical community college for a big-time university. “It’s a big campus. They have a Greek life,” she said.
“They have a bar in the student center,” added Valencia’s academic dean, Nick Bekas.
Valencia is not alone in telling high-school students that there are easier and cheaper ways to get to the four-year university than through a grueling senior-year application process. A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse found that 45 percent of all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution in 2010-11 had previously enrolled at a two-year institution.
“It’s important for students to understand that there are multiple paths to success. They don’t have to cinch that same degree in three years,” said Doug Shapiro, the clearinghouse’s executive director of research.
DEGREES FOR EMPLOYERS
Valencia offers a hands-on, job-training college experience that flouts the traditional classroom picture. Students in the school’s culinary lab wear chef’s uniforms and trace frosting designs on cookie sheets. Officials are proud that their culinary-arts degree is
a fraction of the cost of the same degree at a private academy.
Students in an invasive-cardiology class are decked out in full hospital gear. They practice threading guide wires through tiny catheter tubes and injecting dye. The object is to get the dye into the tube without air bubbles, which requires a steady hand. “When a bubble gets injected, you can stroke the patient,” said student Nalini Ghisiawan. The program had a 100 percent job-placement rate last year.