County college credits no longer will flunk

County college credits no longer will flunk

By Jessica Driscoll

County college officials are thrilled at the prospect of a seamless transition for students transferring to four-year institutions thanks to a new law that recognizes their academic equivalence.

Under the law signed Thursday by Gov. Jon S. Corzine, all public colleges and universities in the state will have to accept credits earned at New Jersey's 19 county colleges.

Many students must repeat courses they already completed at a county college, costing them time and money, said Corzine, who signed the bill at Camden County College in Cherry Hill.

"I'm only sorry it didn't happen sooner," said Gloucester County College Acting President Dr. Russell Davis, who attended the signing.

"It really impacts access for students. They won't have to repeat classes anymore, they'll be able to matriculate more quickly and they'll have the opportunity to graduate in four years and get out into the work force."

Sponsors noted the state pays twice when students who participate in the NJ STARS scholarship program are forced to repeat a course at a four-year college.

In the program, high school students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class can receive state financial aid to attend county colleges. NJ STARS students who graduate with a 3.0 from a county college get another state scholarship to attend a four-year college.

Calling Thursday "a great day for the state of New Jersey and education," Davis said the issue had never been one of academic disparity but rather of individual college control.

"It's a tough thing to coordinate statewide accountability," said Davis.

"This bill forces colleges to act collectively. When county colleges are meeting the same general education and program requirements as four-year universities, the students who graduate with an associate's degree should be able to transfer at the junior level."

The new program begins in the 2008-09 academic year. Public colleges and universities must agree on uniform transfer and curriculum policies. Private colleges in New Jersey can also join the program, but they will not be required to do so.

"A certain amount of credits have always been accepted upon transfer, but it wasn't systematic," said Camden County College President Dr. Raymond Yannuzzi.

"Acceptance will no longer be hit or miss. We don't have to change our courses in response to this law because we have always kept up-to-date with our two- and four-year colleagues. For example, we changed some of our education courses to match the Rowan program so that our students would have the same experience."

Both Davis and Yannuzzi thought the law would encourage more students to attend the county colleges because they would no longer face a negative transfer experience.

"This is something anyone who's worked in a two-year college nationally understands," said Yannuzzi.

"It's a necessary change. In New Jersey, the Department of Higher Education was eliminated years ago and colleges were able to dictate their own procedures, but we need to work together. Sometimes there's a need for a nudge from a legislator to encourage that cooperation."

Associated Press writer Tom Hester Jr. contributed to this story.

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Date Published: Friday, September 14, 2007 - 01:00