Community Colleges Are a Critical Pathway to Success for Texans

Front left to right: Kay Cook, State Representative for District 8 Byron Cook, Navarro College District President Dr. Barbara Kavalier, American Honors President and Co-founder Chris Romer Back left to right: Jim Kavalier, Lynda Housley, Navarro College Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Harold Housley

Front left to right: Kay Cook, State Representative for District 8 Byron Cook, Navarro College District President Dr. Barbara Kavalier, American Honors President and Co-founder Chris Romer
Back left to right: Jim Kavalier, Lynda Housley, Navarro College Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Harold Housley

Community Colleges Are a Critical Pathway to Success for Texans
Dr. Barbara Kavalier and Representative Byron Cook

College access and success is critical for job-seekers and employers, as the share of jobs that require postsecondary education has doubled over the last 40 years. Unfortunately, the rising cost of college puts a degree beyond the reach of far too many Americans. Student debt now tops a trillion dollars in total and continues to rise every day, with the delinquency rate on student loans now exceeding the rate on credit cards, mortgages, and auto loans. There has to be a better way.

For many, community colleges provide a cost-effective – high quality – option for students and families. An associate degree is a ticket to economic mobility, employment or success in higher education. The math is simple: tuition costs for community colleges are on average 60 percent less than four-year institutions. However, we both are all too familiar with one of the biggest criticisms of community colleges nationwide: far too few students make a successful leap from two- to four-year institutions in Texas. Nationwide, only 31 percent of college students complete their associate degree within three years, and only 38.6 percent of college students complete their bachelor’s degree within four years. Far few community college graduates succeed in receiving their bachelor’s degree.

At Navarro College, we’re turning that criticism into a big opportunity, and implementing a new program that takes the college-transfer problem head on—bridging the growing divide between college affordability and college completion. This year, we are proud to announce American Honors, a new program at Navarro College that will help more students earn their bachelor’s degree at less than half the cost of a four-year institution.

We’ll be joining an elite group of innovative community colleges that have successfully established American Honors programs to help their students not only complete their associate degree with honors, but then transfer to some of the best universities in the country. Consider the case of Robert, an adult learner who started at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, who will be attending Stanford University in the fall and will graduate in year 2016. Or Community Colleges of Spokane graduate Russell who will finish his degree at Georgetown University with minimal debt and will be able to join the foreign service.

American Honors is a competitive two-year honors program that will provide a curriculum designed to prepare students to enter their sophomore or junior year at the best colleges and universities in Texas and across the country. After the first two years, students will earn an associate degree with honors from Navarro College. From there, they will have the opportunity to transfer to a top four- year college or university to complete their bachelor’s degree after two more years. Students have access to a network of top four year universities that are interested in admitting high motivated community college students. Students participating in the program at community colleges across the country have been admitted to elite schools like the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, and Vanderbilt University.

In addition to affordability, our new program offers proven services that dramatically increase the opportunity for students to earn a degree, but are not implemented at many community colleges because of a lack of resources. For example, at most community colleges, there is one academic advisor for every 800-1,000 students. The American Honors program provides more personalized support by dramatically lowering the student per advisor rate for students in the program, so that advisors have more time to truly get to the know each student and be able to identify clear academic goals for what students wish to accomplish through their college experience. And, through the American Honors program, Navarro has joined a national network of four-year universities to ensure that students will be able to transfer their credits to the four-year schools.

Of course, not all students at Navarro College will transfer, as we also offer many programs and certifications that do not require a bachelor’s degree. But our new initiative is a giant step in the right direction in getting more community colleges to prepare students who are seeking their bachelor’s for success at a four-year institution.

Through American Honors at Navarro College, our graduates will emerge as independent thinkers and effective leaders, stepping into successful careers or continuing on to a top-tier university. Our mission through a program like this is to make sure that all Texans can not only dream of graduating with a bachelor’s degree, but make it a reality at a much lower cost.

Dr. Barbara Kavalier serves as the sixth District President for Navarro College, a comprehensive community college serving five counties in Texas with locations in Corsicana, Waxahachie, Midlothian, Mexia and Fairfield. Byron Cook was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2002 and is honored to represent the hard-working citizens of House District 8, which includes Anderson, Freestone, Hill and Navarro counties.