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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane colleges cooperate in pilot transfer program

EWU student Cameron Corcoran works Thursday at his on-campus job at Epic Adventures, where he rents outdoors gear to students. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Cameron Corcoran was a math class short of an associate degree at Spokane Community College but didn’t want to delay his transition to a four-year university any longer.

The 26-year-old enrolled at Eastern Washington University last fall even though he knew that without the AA in hand it could complicate getting his community college coursework transferred with him. “I know it’s best if you have that AA first … but I wanted to get moving on my major,” said Corcoran, who is studying outdoor recreation.

Now, under a first-of-its kind agreement statewide, Eastern and Spokane’s two community colleges are letting students like Corcoran do both.

Called “reverse transfers,” university-bound students from Spokane and Spokane Falls community colleges who are a few credits short of their associate degrees can complete the needed coursework at Eastern rather than put off progress toward their four-year degrees by staying to finish. It’s designed to help keep students on track with their educational goals rather than protect rigid institutional bureaucracies.

“What we want to do is not only reduce their time in school but shrink their debt,” said Keith Klauss, director of Eastern’s transfer center. “We already work really closely with Community Colleges of Spokane and they work really closely with us.”

And that cooperation is being studied in Olympia for possible modeling on a statewide level.

Klauss and others spent part of last week in Western Washington explaining the reverse transfer agreement to college and university officials from throughout the state. The formal agreement is modeled after similar projects underway in Oregon and Michigan.

Nationally, efforts are underway to encourage greater cooperation between two- and four-year institutions as well. Studies indicate 78 percent of community college students who transferred to four-year universities left before finishing associate’s degrees, according to the Herndon, Virginia-based National Student Clearinghouse.

“This is about streamlining the process and making it easier for students,” Community Colleges of Spokane Chancellor Christine Johnson said. “Eastern is a great partner and I think we’re fortunate.”

Eastern President Mary Cullinan agreed and called it part of a commitment to creating “multiple pathways for students to achieve success.”

In Washington, students who earn associate degrees can transfer to one of the state’s public universities at junior, or third-year, status. The universities waive all general education requirements, which enables the transfer students to focus solely on coursework required for their chosen four-year bachelor’s degree.

It’s widely regarded as the most affordable route to a four-year degree because community colleges offer less-expensive tuition, and it’s why Eastern and Spokane’s community colleges already have such close working relationships.

“We’ve kind of informally been doing these kinds of arrangements anyway because the (student academic) advising going back and forth is pretty seamless already,” Klauss said.

The new agreement formalizes those arrangements. Under the program, students must have at least 60 credits when transferring to be eligible. The schools estimate it will benefit about 100 students per year.

Corcoran, the outdoors recreation major, appreciates the extra effort the schools took in finding ways to keep him on track.

“I’d been putting math on the back burner,” he said, while taking a break from stacking snowboards at Epic Adventures, the university’s on-campus outdoors program where he works part time. “I needed to figure out how my SCC credits transferred and was in talking with them when they told me about being able to take the class here and apply it to my AA.”

When he finishes the math class next quarter, the transcript will be sent to SCC, which will then award him an AA that Eastern will use to waive any general education classes he might have had to take if his community college classes were simply evaluated individually.

“I was hopeful but not sure what to think,” Corcoran said of his initial discussions with the Eastern transfer office. “Then when I found out the (university) president was on board, I was like, yeah, this is probably going to work out.”