KEARNEY — A new pathway has been created to help some high school graduates qualify to enroll at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. The program, a partnership with the Kearney campus of Central Community College, may be the first step for many toward earning a four-year degree.

The CCC-UNK Pathway Program is a co-enrollment partnership for first-time freshmen who applied to UNK but were denied admission because they didn’t meet University of Nebraska enrollment requirements.

Participants will take one UNK class and three classes at the Kearney CCC site in the fall and spring semesters as freshmen. After successfully completing those classes and meeting university admission requirements, they may enroll full time at UNK or CCC.

The program fits a trend.

CCC Dean of Enrollment Management Janel Walton said a growing number of students have a community college experience before moving to a four-year institution.

“I can safely say that academic transfer is our biggest and most popular major,” Walton said. “... A lot of it has to do with cost savings or how prepared they are (for college).”

UNK data shows that from 2013 to 2018, an average of 70 students per year transferred from CCC to UNK with some college credits.

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Another trend is for students to take dual-level courses while still in high school. Walton said some may graduate from high school with 12 or more community college credits.

UNK Associate Director for Transfer Transitions Tom Knott said the goal is to make the Pathway Program as student-focused as possible as participants decide what they want to study moving forward.

Getting started

The agreement establishing the program was signed in February by UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen and CCC President Matt Gotschall.

Knott and UNK Director of Undergraduate Recruitment and Admissions Dusty Newton said the timing wasn’t good for academic year planning.

Knott said, “A lot of (high school) students had already made decisions.”

Also, Newton said, some UNK applicants had received admission denial letters as early as last September. Some of those students were contacted by admissions staff to see if they were a good fit for the Pathway Program.

In the future, the plan is to send congratulatory letters to students who currently don’t meet UNK enrollment requirements, but do qualify for program.

Knott said not all such students will be good candidates for the new CCC-UNK program, but it will be an option for some.

Walton said Gotschall became aware of a partnership program in Iowa between a community college and four-year institution. Talks about a similar program in Kearney started in June 2018 with the Iowa program’s memorandum of understanding as a starting point.

“We put our own spin on it,” Newton said. “Tom and Janel really took it by the horns.”

“They (Iowa) did things that didn’t work in our structure,” Walton said. “... We thought if they can make it work, we can make it work.”

She added that getting from a first meeting in June to a program announcement the following February was unusually quick and possible only because of existing CCC-UNK relationships.

“I would be really happy for 10 to 12 students for this fall,” Knott said, because of the late Pathway Program launch. Also, it’s a good number for a pilot project.

He and Walton said it is easier to keep in touch with a small group of students, plus more pointed questions can be asked during program evaluations at the end of their second semester.

Pathway students

Of program students confirmed by late June, most were from the area around Kearney.

They will be fully admitted students to CCC and UNK. They will register with CCC, but UNK will handle any financial assistance.

They may live in UNK housing and participate in all non-NCAA activities.

Pathway students will have access to academic advising and other student support services offered on both campuses.

Another plus is that Knott will be the assigned adviser for all of them during their freshman year. “I am their main point of contact,” he said. “... If there are problems, we will get to them before they are too deep into the semester.”

When asked for examples of why Pathway-eligible students didn’t meet UNK enrollment requirements, Newton said some students aren’t good test takers. Others may have a high grade-point average, but rank in the middle of a small graduating class.

Access to required high school classes is another issue. “Some of the small schools don’t teach languages or students miss a math class” required for admission, Newton said, which is why the admissions staff looks deeper into the reasons a student was denied admission.

Walton said, “We understand that a lot students may want to be a Loper, but they may not be academically prepared.” She also noted that in highly competitive high school classes, a student may have a 3.0 or higher GPA and not be in the upper 50 percent of his or her class.

UNK and CCC Pathway Program courses will be on-site and a lecture format.

“It’s just for the fact of success. Not every new student is ready for an online campus,” Walton said, plus it is important for freshmen to make human connections.

Program goals

Knott said he’d like to see a 2020-21 school year Pathway class with double the number of students, 20-25, and then slower growth in following years.

He and Newton said 50 might be a good manageable number for the long term.

Newton said the CCC-UNK partnership is the first of its kind in Nebraska, as far as they know.

“This works for us because CCC is so close to us,” Knott said, adding that proximity might make similar university-community college partnerships possible in Lincoln and Omaha.

The benefit for both UNK and CCC is helping more students have success in higher education.

“We’re able to educate some students who might not have thought about us because they wanted to go to a four-year institution,” Walton said. “We were not their first choice. In this program, we are part of their first choice.”

At the CCC-UNK Pathway Program announcement in February, Kristensen said the partnership is a winning idea beyond the two Kearney campuses because the community and state are better able to keep Pathway students close to home.

“They (students) are going to have a better chance of entering the workforce at a higher level of responsibility and pay,” Kristensen said. “They’re more likely to stay in this region, and that’s what we’re all after.”

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