San Juan College and Fort Lewis College partner to earn $27,500 grant to help transfers

Money will be used to improve transfer rate between schools

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
A $27,500 grant awarded to San Juan College and Fort Lewis College is designed to help launch a program designed to increase the transfer rate between the two institutions.
  • The Equity Transfer Initiative grant is designed to facilitate transfers for students between community colleges and four-year institutions in the same region.
  • The program is aimed at African-American, Hispanic, adult and first-generation learners.
  • The partnership represents the latest cooperative venture between San Juan College and Fort Lewis College.

FARMINGTON — The cost of a new enrollment program that will allow students to be part of the community at San Juan College and Fort Lewis College is being covered by a $27,500 grant from the American Association of Community Colleges.

The Equity Transfer Initiative grant — part of a national program that aims to increase transfer rates for African-American, Hispanic, adult and first-generation learners, according to a press release — is designed to facilitate transfers for students between community colleges and four-year institutions in the same region.

Adrienne Forgette, vice president for learning at San Juan College, said the new program will allow participants to enjoy the benefits of being a student at both colleges. Students in the program who begin their post-secondary academic career at San Juan College will be able to use the Fort Lewis College library or be admitted to that school's athletic events, among other perks, she said.

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"It's designed to make transfer students feel more comfortable," Forgette said. "The idea is, they'll be transferring to a familiar place, not a strange place, and they already know the staff and their peers."

The long-term goal of the program is not just to encourage more students to transfer to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, after earning an associate degree at San Juan College, but to eliminate the hurdles that keep those students from finishing a bachelor's degree once they enroll at FLC.

Forgette said many freshmen enroll at San Juan College with every intention of going on to seek a bachelor's degree at another institution someday. But for a variety of reasons, she said, they fail to do so. This program is being launched to address some of the issues that lead to that shortfall.

Adrienne Forgette

"There's a gap between those initial ambitious hopes and what happens over time," Forgette said. "I feel very strongly about trying to close that gap."

She said simple geography is one of the biggest reasons why so many students don't go on to earn a bachelor's degree.

"Fort Lewis College is our closest four-year institution, and it's 45 to 60 miles away," Forgette said. "Even the economies of southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico can interfere with that. Being in Durango just feels different than being in San Juan County."

Forgette noted that the personal circumstances of many San Juan College students make it difficult for them to earn an undergraduate degree in four years.

"It's not unusual for adult learners to spend six to 10 years to finish a bachelor's degree," she said.

There's certainly nothing wrong with taking that slower approach, she said. But she explained it does increase the chances that something disruptive will occur in a student's life, perhaps leading to a decision to drop out.

"It makes it hard for students to maintain that momentum," she said. "When you're going to school that long, so many times, it's easy to make the decision to stop going."

'We know relationships matter'

Officials at both institutions hope the new program will help participants feel at home on both campuses.

"We want to make it very relational and very connected," Forgette said. "We know relationships matter. We want them to know they will have people rooting for them with this program. They're going to have people at both institutions rooting for them and providing them with resources to keep going."

A total of 16 partnerships between 17 community colleges and 19 universities around the country were crafted for participation in the ETI program this year. Forgette said that although San Juan College has arrangements with universities around New Mexico that are designed to facilitate the flow of its students to those institutions, this is the first time San Juan College has entered into a partnership like this with another school.

"It's not unheard of, but it's fairly rare in higher education," she said. "It will be unique to our institution."

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Officials at San Juan College eventually hope to see as many as 300 of their students each year transfer to Fort Lewis College to obtain a bachelor's degree.

San Juan College has set a goal of seeing 100 its students transfer to FLC in the first year of the program, Forgette said. Down the line, SJC officials hope to see more than 300 of their students transfer to the Durango institution each year.

Those are ambitious targets, if the current numbers are any indication. Forgette said an average of only 50 students a year make the transition from San Juan College to FLC right now.

"Obviously, 100 would be doubling that," she said, adding that SJC officials are not satisfied with the status quo.

"We're looking for ways to improve the transfer rate – not just to Fort Lewis College, but other colleges," she said.

Forgette said five academic programs will be focused on as part of the initiative — marketing, accounting, biology, pre-health and Native studies. She said they were chosen because of the employment opportunities they offer in the region.

The partnership represents the latest cooperative venture between San Juan College and Fort Lewis College. Just a few weeks ago, officials at the two institutions announced the expansion of the Hawk Tank business plan competition from Fort Lewis College to San Juan College, a program designed to encourage and reward young entrepreneurs.

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"We are thrilled to have been selected to participate in this national Equity Transfer Initiative, allowing us to partner with San Juan College to create innovative new pathways into a four-year degree at Fort Lewis College," FLC Provost Cheryl Nixon stated in a press release announcing the partnership. "SJC and FLC share so many meaningful values: increasing access to higher education, ensuring that students from diverse backgrounds achieve success, and empowering students to define new career and life possibilities. We predict great success with this new ETI grant and, more importantly, great success for our SJC and FLC students."

Forgette said the two schools have a developing relationship, one that has improved during an atmosphere of increased uncertainty for so many higher-education institutions.

"I would say a lot of colleges have seen a turn down in enrollment as a result of the (COVID-19) pandemic," she said. "We're all very conscious of the need to try new things and have different strategies for improving enrollment. Just waiting for students to come and know what they want to do is not a winning strategy, if it ever was."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.