Battling low transfer rates, LSU and community college system announce transfer scholarship plan _lowres

Advocate staff photo by REBEKAH ALLEN -- Monty Sullivan, system president of Louisiana’s Community & Technical Colleges, left, and LSU System President F. King Alexander look on Thursday as Gov. John Bel Edwards signs an agreement Thursday that guarantees the most academically motivated community college students admission and a scholarship to LSU.

In an effort to boost Louisiana’s low transfer rate of community college students to universities, higher education officials announced a partnership on Thursday that guarantees the most academically motivated community college students admission and a scholarship to LSU.

The award is called the Honors Promise, and it offers a $3,000-a-year LSU scholarship to community college students who are members of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, who typically are among the highest academic achievers in the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

LCTCS President Monty Sullivan said about 1,400 students per year, who are members of the honors society, would be eligible, and they’re typically highly motivated students who hope to go on to receive a four-year degree.

“In the past, we’ve had a situation where our athletes are welcomed at LSU; our baseball players in particular were welcomed at LSU,” Sullivan said at a news conference where they signed the agreement. “Today marks a change. Today going forward, students who perform well academically are not only welcomed at LSU but guaranteed admission and guaranteed a scholarship.”

In announcing the partnership, LSU President F. King Alexander pointed out that Louisiana’s transfer rate is falling far behind other states like Florida, California and Illinois, where between 40 and 50 percent of students who graduate from a university start at a two-year school.

In Louisiana, King said, the transfer rate is between 6 and 10 percent. But state data puts the rate closer to 5 percent.

“That means the option isn’t really available to them like it is to many other students, or it’s not a pathway that they’re sure of,” Alexander said, adding that some two-year students are unable to afford the cost of transferring to a university. “That’s why we’re here.”

The national transfer rate is about 16 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, a national nonprofit that collects and analyzes higher education data.

Alexander also tried to diffuse the “myth” that two-year students don’t go to universities because they were unable to meet the academic requirements.

“Quite honestly, life gets in the way,” he said, noting that both U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, the former Republican presidential candidate from Florida, and former California Gov. and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger started in community colleges and transferred to universities — an arrangement he calls “two plus two.”

He said students who transfer to LSU in Baton Rouge from community colleges have a 2 percent higher graduation rate than traditional freshmen. And at LSU-Alexandria, students who transfer from community colleges have a 9 percent higher graduation rate.

“We know these students are motivated, and we want to make the pathway much more clear to them,” he said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, who attended the news conference, said Louisiana is missing an opportunity by not transferring more community college students to universities.

“If we have people in Louisiana who have to leave in order to pursue an educational opportunity, get a good job or have a rewarding career, then we are failing those people,” he said.

Sullivan said part of the reason Louisiana’s transfer rate is so low is because the community college system is young, only 16 years old, and has been primarily focused on vocational training and meeting the needs of the state’s workforce demand.

Some lawmakers, like state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, have openly lamented the fact that the state’s popular TOPS program doesn’t transfer from two-years to four-years, which can create financial barriers for the students.

At $3,000 a year, the scholarship is less than half of the total cost of tuition at LSU’s flagship campus, which is more than $7,000 a year for a full-time student.

LSU officials said the scholarship comes from a fund with about $3 million from LSU license plate sales that is designated for the sole purpose of funding scholarships.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.

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