More traffic on the road less traveled

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November 28, 2011

11:37 PM

Bucky Dow’s ’12 voice mixes with sounds of the other College of William and Mary students filtering through Lodge One. Nothing sets him apart from the traditional college crowd snagging sandwiches or catching up with friends — he bears no scarlet “T” to mark him as a transfer student.

Ben Kirby ’12 mingles with the other students bustling about the Grind. He grabs his coffee, relaxes at a table and blends into the afternoon scene. He, too, bears no scarlet “T.”

But both Dow’s and Kirby’s paths to the College differ from those of “natives,” students who apply to the College right after high school. “I wasn’t on the college path at all, and I didn’t even plan on going to college for the tail end of my senior year of high school,” Dow said. “I barely graduated high school.”

Dow eventually enrolled at Richard Bland College, the College’s junior institution in Petersburg, with hopes of transferring to the College in the future.

Kirby enrolled at Virginia Military Institute. He eventually transferred to Northern Virginia Community College but had his sights set on enrolling at the College.

“I came here for prospective transfer day and really loved it,” Kirby said. “I was originally at community college to get those GER credits out of the way. Biology is biology anywhere. I paid maybe $100 per credit at [Northern Virginia Community College], so I was able to save a lot of money.”

Dow and Kirby joined 202 enrolling transfers in the fall of 2010. Community college transfers now comprise 45 percent of total enrollment of transfers as compared to 36 percent in past years, according to Associate Dean of Admission Kim Van Deusen.

With the economy in turmoil, the College has seen an increase in the numbers of students choosing the two-year college to four-year college path and non-traditional students.

Non-traditional students are defined as students who are 24 years of age or older. Referred to as “Prime Tribers,” the students constitute a larger number of students at the College than ever before.

“We had 15 Prime Tribers last fall and 48 this fall,” Assistant to the Dean of Students Ben Boone said. “I think part of that is our relationship with the community colleges, but a lot of it has to do with the economy. They might have had a career before the economy headed down. I know that one student had a 30-year-long career, but when she retired, she wanted to go back to college.”

Financial services company Sallie Mae recently released a nationwide survey for the 2010-11 academic year, showing that families paid about 9 percent less for education than during the 2009-10 academic year.

The study also showed an increase in the applications for financial aid and grants, correlating with the economic recession. The decrease in education payments was also a result of students shifting from higher-cost schools to lower-cost schools.

For high-income families, enrollment at two-year public colleges increased from 12 to 22 percent between 2009-11.

Middle-income families showed a decrease in enrollment at four-year public colleges, with 53 percent enrolled in 2009-10 to 44 percent enrolled in 2010-11, while low-income families remained fairly consistent with 33 percent enrolled in two-year colleges and 46 percent enrolled at four-year colleges.

The College has seen an increase in the number of transfer applications, which also correlates with increasing enrollment at community colleges. According to Van Deusen, the number of applications has increased from around 500 to 950 annually within the last decade.

The number of transfer applications from Virginia community colleges has more than doubled in the past five years.

“Sometimes community colleges aren’t last resorts,” University Registrar Sara Marchello said. “It might be for economic reasons or because the student is place-bound. They might be students with really excellent preparation, but, for whatever reason, choose community college first and then turn to four-year colleges.”

The College has taken multiple steps to accommodate the increase.

“There wasn’t really a large support network there to deal with transfer students at first,” Boone said. “But some years ago we put in an application for a Jack Kent Cooke grant. It was geared toward funding initiatives across campus. We didn’t receive the grant, but out of that meeting, though, came a group effort to look at the transfer population on campus.”

Marchello directs the co-enrollment program, a new program established to allow students at six community colleges in the area to experience the College without the pressures of academic commitment.

Students in the program take classes at the College and receive credit that can go to their College degree, even though the grades go on their community college transcript. They experience life on the campus and interact with both students and professors.

“It lets them put their toe in the water and see what they like here,” Marchello said. “If they decide to transfer, they come in at an advantage because they know the campus. There’s something about having a sense of [the] place that makes the transition smoother. We have a high success rate with those transfer students. They’ve done well here, been retained, graduated and succeeded.”

Virginia also mandates a guaranteed admission program for students at community colleges. If a student maintains a 3.6 GPA and graduates with an associate’s degree at the community college, he or she can enroll at any Virginia public university.

Students can also transfer in from other four-year colleges and can opt to return to college past the age of 24 as Prime Tribers.

“Transfer students bring an incredible amount of diversity, in the greatest sense of diversity,” Boone said. “These are students that have increasingly had greater commitments. That perspective and work ethic is really different from an 18-year-old freshman’s perspective.”

The different experience that the transfer students bring to campus sometimes causes problems in regard to adjusting to the College.

With various commitments outside of academics, transfer students enter the College with different needs. Transfer students are grouped separately from freshmen during Orientation and receive help with other needs such as housing, parking and registration.

As a result of the growing number of transfer students and their various needs, the College hopes to look at changing the structure of Orientation for transfer students.

“We’re looking at making some necessary programmatic changes, especially with Orientation,” Boone said. “I’m working closely with the Director of Orientation to look at how we can accommodate the 30-year-old single mother with two kids. It’s not feasible for her to be here for five days from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. They’ve been going through the same process as other students. We’re pretty flexible, but there are certain requirements that they have to have because of federal regulation or College policy.”

But assimilation beyond Orientation still proves to be the largest struggle. Dow served as a transfer Orientation Aide this past August and hoped to impart some of his experience with the transfer process.

“I feel that of our own doing, [transfer students] tend to wall ourselves out. I just wanted to make sure that they were reaching out,” Dow said. “When I came to William and Mary, I had the fear that I didn’t want to impose myself on groups. But you need to get out there, and no one’s really going to judge you.”

As the number of transfers applying to the College increases, both administrators and fellow transfer students hope to guide a growing population at the College.

“We’re still trying to answer the question of how we serve our different kinds of transfer populations most effectively,” Boone said.

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