But while attending Fayetteville Technical Community College, Carlos enrolled in a program called the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program (C-STEP), which offered him guaranteed admission to UNC as long as he met a GPA requirement.
Carlos said guaranteed admissions programs like C-STEP give low-income students hope.
“When you are faced with financial burdens, it tends to limit your thinking,” he said. “You tend to think, ‘Well I can’t because I don’t have the opportunity, I don’t have the resources.’ So at least having the hope of getting accepted will allow them to think about, ‘OK, what do I want to be when I get here?’ It allows them to further think about their future.”
State legislators created the North Carolina Guaranteed Admission Program in fall of 2015, which is slated to be implemented at all UNC-system schools and community colleges in the 2017-18 school year.
Within the program, schools can accept students and require they attend community college for two years prior to enrolling in the university as a junior.
“It’s going to affect the kids in that bottom quartile academically who have traditionally found the university curriculum to be very challenging,” said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union. “We’ve got a lot of kids going to college, spending a lot of money, dropping out and having nothing to show for it.”
The Guaranteed Admission Program differs from current transferring policies, as students apply to specific UNC institutions as high schoolers — and then earn their associate’s degree.
The Board of Governors and the Community College system will report on the policy’s effects on enrollment and the number of student participants by March 1.
But Jeannette Moore, chairperson of the Faculty Senate at N.C. State University, said in an email the policy could cause universities to turn even more applicants away.
“It is my understanding that we will not be increasing capacity, which means deferring admission for some students will require us to reduce the number of admitted students in other areas,” she said.
But Board of Governors member Marty Kotis said he expected the policy would have little impact on enrollment.
“If it did, you’d be looking at a two-year possible impact before it would jump back,” Kotis said.
He said one concern is logistical.
“How do we know who is coming when at which school? We also don’t necessarily know who is going to stay in school,” Kotis said.
Jenna Robinson, president of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said existing transfer policies will ease the program’s implementation.
“I don’t think it will be that difficult to implement because the community colleges and the UNC-system already have a good relationship,” she said. “We know that transfer students have done fairly well once they get to the UNC system.”
But a new study released by the Community College Research Center revealed only 14 percent of community college students nationwide transfer to a four-year university and graduate within six years.
According to UNC’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, retention of transfer students at UNC is slightly higher — as 22.3 percent of those accepted as juniors in the fall of 2013 are currently here for a third year.
Junior Kirstyn Waller transferred to UNC in the fall from Guilford Technical Community College. To complete her requirements in two years, Waller said she had to overload each semester in community college.
Though she was guaranteed a place as a junior at one of the UNC-system schools, she said the process required a lot of trial and error.
“Most of the advice that I got from professors was a lot better than the advice that I got from specific advisors,” Waller said.
She said many students in her previous program — designed for students who plan on transferring — are still meeting preliminary requirements or simply chose to earn an associate’s degree.
“That makes sense because the advising there is honestly a lot more geared towards students who are just trying to stop with the associate’s,” she said.
Community colleges might need to update their curriculum to aid students looking to transfer under the guaranteed program, Horn said.
He said the Guaranteed Admission Program could help rural students transition to college life — and would ease financial constraints felt by students transferring.
“Most of those kids don’t stick around long enough to graduate. But they end up with lots of debt and the state ends up spending a lot of money. I believe it is better to offer those students an opportunity.”