Plans for free community college could add transfer students to School of Nursing

Media Credit: File Photo by Samuel Hardgrove | Hatchet Staff Photographer

President Barack Obama (pictured during a speech last year) discussed his plan to give to years of community college to all Americans for free during the State of the Union last week.

While lawmakers gear up for what will likely be an intense battle over making community college free for some students, the GW School of Nursing might have to prepare for an influx of potential new students.

The school has a partnership with Montgomery College and the Virginia Community College System: Graduates who earn an associate’s degree in nursing and meet GW’s admissions standards are guaranteed admission to the School of Nursing to continue working toward a bachelor’s or graduate degree.

If more students start enrolling in those Maryland and Virginia colleges’ nursing programs, GW could see an increase in the number of students transferring into its school. Billinda Tebbenhoff, the school’s associate dean for undergraduate studies, said the School of Nursing would consider adjusting its faculty size and infrastructure if it needed to respond to changes in enrollment.

“The School of Nursing is interested in continuing its community college partnerships and exploring new opportunities with these partners,” Tebbenhoff said in an email.

The school declined to provide the number of students who have enrolled at GW through the partnership since it was launched two years ago.

Tebbenhoff said admissions counselors from GW visit community colleges to share information about the school.

“Everyone comes to nursing on their own path,” she said. “GW School of Nursing provides multiple pathways for nurses who [have associate’s degrees in nursing] to further their education online while continuing to work and live their own communities.”

GW’s school has maintained steady enrollment largely because of its online programs, which were ranked ninth-best by U.S. News & World Report this year. Last year, the programs came in at No. 4, an all-time high for the school.

Matthew Diemer, an associate professor at the University of Michigan Graduate School of Education, said GW’s plan could bring in more students because it provides a clear path from community college to a four-year institution.

“Especially in nursing, which is in high demand, that kind of idea is great,” Diemer said.

Still, it’s hard to tell whether the plan will push more students to continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree after two years.

Many community college students identify as “workers who go to school, instead of students who work,” Diemer said. That means students might want to focus on work after two years, rather than earning another degree.

President Barack Obama’s plans, which he highlighted during the State of the Union address last week, might not have much of an affect on more selective, private schools, such as GW, said Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University.

While the plan might persuade more students to transfer to a four-year college after two years, Kelchen said GW’s high sticker price probably wouldn’t attract the students who’d go to community college if it were free. On average, community college students pay $3,131 in yearly tuition and fees, according to the College Board.

“I think the impact at less selective private colleges could be larger, as those students are more price-sensitive and may be willing to switch to a community college if the price is right,” he said.

Alicia Dowd, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education, said she thought Obama’s plan would more likely impact students who wouldn’t go to college at all, rather than students who eventually would transfer into a four-year college.

The actual tuition savings that students would see wouldn’t make that much of a difference, she added.

“I think that would mean that some additional students would go to community college and a small portion of very savvy students will choose to go to community college and then transfer instead of going straight to four years,” she said. “But I don’t think it would take a huge bite out of the private school applicants.”

Mariana de la Maza contributed reporting.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.