By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Western Carolina University (WCU) and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday, July 8. It “guarantees admission to WCU for all A-B Tech graduates who satisfy specific requirements spelled out in the document.”
The document was signed by WCU Chancellor Kelly Brown and A-B Tech President Dennis King.
“We want to make the process of transferring to Western Carolina University as smooth as possible for students who graduate from all of our community college partners across the region and the state,” said Brown.
A-B Tech had 130 of its students attending WCU last year alone.
“Western Carolina University has long been an important partner of A-B Tech, since many of our graduates have continued their education at WCU,” said King.
“We are happy to enter a new phase of this beneficial partnership with the Catamount Trailblazer guaranteed admission agreement. With this agreement, the two institutions provide an even clearer pathway for our graduates to benefit from the guaranteed high-quality education available just down the road at Western Carolina University.”
The move is one to enhance the opportunities for those that wished to take a different approach to the four-year structure. There are numerous reasons for that: staying closer to home for a couple years, reduced costs, or a slower transition into the college routine.
Steven Heulett, the coordinator of A-B Tech’s Transfer Advising Center, says that community colleges are growing and improving, and are more than a viable option for anybody.
“I think that the national data is starting to show that community college transfers students are every bit as good, if not better in some cases, than the students that started as freshman. I know that our students, year-after-year we get a measure telling us how our graduates are performing at the universities, and they typically outperform the students that started as freshman,” said Heulett.
Heulett says A-B Tech tries to offer a different environment and heightened accessibility that you might not find at some larger universities.
“I appreciate the fact that our primary mission is teaching,” said Heulett.
“I fully tip my hat the great institutions we have in North Carolina that do primary research and a lot of the great contributions to our understanding of the world or medicine or anything like that…but it’s nice to be in an institution where teaching is the focus…I think our students benefit from that.”
This move and others like it offer better options for local students, that includes Tribal students. According to James Bradley, EBCI Secretary of Education, community colleges have become a new focus for EBCI Education.
“What we’re seeing happen now is that we placed such an emphasis on four-year degrees, that we didn’t really encourage students to pursue trades or other opportunities,” said Bradley.
“So now we have a shortage of electricians, plumbers and HVAC people and things like that. I think [community colleges] are an important part of what we’re trying to do as far as developing our workforce.”
The community college with the most contact with the Tribe is Southwestern Community College (SCC) in Sylva.
“I think we had over 100 students there for the last academic year,” said Bradley.
“They’re really interested in helping us not only with students at the campus but having conversations with us for ‘what does the Tribe need, and what can we set up here’. When the casino started table games, SCC was instrumental in setting up classes to teach dealers and the different games so that you graduated with experience and a certificate.”
Bradley says that the Tribe is looking at more options for higher education, as well. That they are working with SCC and UNC-Chapel Hill to create a program called First Step, which would function a lot like the MoU between A-B Tech and WCU.
“Students can go to SCC for two years. During that time, you have a mentor, you visit the Chapel Hill campus, and you’re focused on certain degrees. And if you keep your GPA up, you’re automatically accepted into Carolina.”
Bradley says that more opportunities and a better understanding of what students need is a goal of EBCI Education. He says that working with colleges like UNC-Asheville, SCC, and WCU has been important for growing the culture that is needed for tribal students off the boundary.
“Because our community is so tightly knit…there’s a whole support system here that is great on some levels. But, then when you have to leave that support system and start making decisions on your own, it can be difficult for some students.”