A simple math solution for a complex higher ed enrollment program

Innovative 3+1 partnership helps a community college reverse declines

Sometimes a simple math solution is all it takes to reverse a complex enrollment dilemma. Like most community colleges, Rowan College at Burlington County in New Jersey was experiencing a series of challenges—most notably declining enrollment and resources—that threatened our ability to fulfill our mission and transform lives.

With the benefit of an innovative partnership with New Jersey’s Rowan University, one of the top public research institutions in the country, we were able to expand opportunities for our students while increasing our enrollment and revenue streams.

Best of all, we actually reduced costs for students with a path to a bachelor’s degree that costs about $25,000—less than what most universities charge for a single year.

In the new pathway, students complete 75 percent of their baccalaureate credits at our community college before completing their senior year as university students. We called this simple and powerful approach 3+1. It instantly boosted enrollment and retention numbers by offering students an option to stay with us for an extra year.

Since we offered our first junior-year course in January 2017, we have achieved three consecutive semesters of enrollment: 3 percent in spring 2017, 5 percent in the following fall and another 3 percent this spring. In just over two years, 3+1 went from a concept to a fully structured pathway in six career-relevant programs.

Today, nearly 1 out of 10 students is in a 3+1 program such as nursing, biology, criminal justice, psychology, liberal studies, and computing and informatics.

Collaboration and communication

The program feels like a natural part of our college, and one that has been around for years. This is attributable to the willingness of our Rowan University partners to work closely across institutional and departmental lines.

Collaboration and open communication is the key to any partnership—especially one that involves seaming distinct academic, enrollment management, student success and a variety of marketing functions. A jointly funded office houses advisors who meet with each 3+1 student.

Faculty members at both institutions work together to ensure that 3+1 students receive the same curriculum and rigor as those on Rowan University’s main campus. Every student receives a clear, one-page course map that outlines exactly what is required to graduate within four years.

This approach has certainly changed the way prospective students perceive our college. Enrollment data show the increase among full-time students has been more rapid than with part-time students. There have also been strong increases in new students including those from another county.

We were pleasantly surprised to see the response to the program from our more experienced students—including some who received their associate degree a decade ago. It may be too soon to make definitive conclusions, but among our initial cohort, our 3+1 students who are 45 and older trended 5 percentage points higher than the rest of the college population.

To me, this indicates that 3+1 is appealing to older students who want a clear, direct path to a degree.

This has been such a wonderful opportunity for our students and college that we celebrated the partnership program on March 1 (or 3/1), which our county officially designated as 3+1 Day.

We still have more work to do, including establishing 3+1 offerings in other areas such as engineering, education and health care, and enacting state legislation that will provide community college students in their junior year the same financial aid status as those in their freshman or sophomore years.

Despite some X and Y variables, the simple 3+1 equation has certainly added up to so much more than four for our students at Rowan College at Burlington County.  

 Michael A. Cioce is president of Rowan College at Burlington County.

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