ADVANCE partnership will create greater student access

Mason Rector Tom Davis (from left), Northrop Grumman CEO and President Wes Bush, Vencore President and CEO Mac Curtis, Mason Vice President for Academic Innovation and New Ventures Michelle Marks, George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, NOVA President Scott Ralls, Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent, NOVA Board Chair Todd Rowley and SCHEV Director Peter Blake at Tuesday's ADVANCE partnership announcement. Photo by Ron Aira.

George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College joined Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday to announce a groundbreaking partnership that will assist students as they transfer from a two-year program and earn a four-year undergraduate degree.

ADVANCE: A NOVA Mason Partnership will increase graduation rates and smooth the path to a degree while saving students time and money. It will work in collaboration with Northern Virginia employers to adapt and create high-demand programs to fill the region’s critical workforce needs.

“I’m proud to be part of this announcement of a new, stronger partnership between our largest public university and largest two-year college,” McAuliffe said. “My administration has always focused on three broad goals: ensuring equality for all Virginians, enhancing our quality of life and building a new Virginia economy. There is no better way to achieve these goals than ensuring our citizens have access to a high-quality education, which we all know leads to better jobs, greater fulfillment and more enriched lives.”

ADVANCE creates for students a single point of admission and financial aid, a dedicated advisor from admission to NOVA through graduation from George Mason, realignment of curricula to ensure students do not lose credits when they transfer, and financial incentives for the neediest students.

Estimates show students who earn a four-year Mason degree two years after transferring from NOVA can save a full year of tuition.

“We see this as a critical solution at a time when many students across the nation who want a degree are not able to achieve that goal,” Mason President Ángel Cabrera said. “We are committed to helping these students and see the ADVANCE program as a real difference-maker.”

The partnership is expected to welcome its first students into NOVA in the fall of 2018. The plan is to add five academic programs to the partnership every year, starting with those in Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering, the School of Business, the College of Science and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“This is about making the right investment for the future,” NOVA President Scott Ralls said. “Our power to grow together to support the region is fundamental to the growth of Northern Virginia economy. It also is an essential component of our mission of inclusive excellence, which ensures that all students who want a degree can earn one.”

Although 80 percent of students attending community colleges say they want to earn a four-year degree, only 14 percent achieve that goal after six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Students who graduate from NOVA with an associate’s degree perform better than average, at 20 percent.

Those are striking numbers at a time when, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a graduate of a four-year college can expect to earn 33 percent more over their lifetime than a graduate of a two-year college.

“We’re designing a new kind of program that will be a single institutional experience,” said Michelle Marks, Mason’s vice president for academic innovation and new ventures. “It could be a commonwealth model, and a national model.”

At Tuesday’s ADVANCE partnership announcement, Gov. McAuliffe and the two college presidents shared the podium with Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Director Peter Blake, Amazon Web Services Senior Manager Steve Block, Mason Rector Tom Davis, Northrop Grumman CEO and President Wes Bush, Vencore President and CEO Mac Curtis, NOVA Board Chair Todd Rowley, Mason student Grace Billingsley, and Michelle Marks, Mason vice president for Academic Innovation and New Ventures.

Bush said the “practical challenge we face every single day” in Northern Virginia is developing a highly skilled workforce that meets employers’ changing needs and drives a diversifying economy.

“For us to have the economic security that we need, we need the workforce of the future,” Bush said. “That’s why these types of partnerships are absolutely critical. They bring together the opportunities for students to pursue their dreams, to pursue their ability, to join the workforce and become productive members of our society and to continue to move our nation ahead.”

Curtis concurred that the new partnership will be beneficial for students and employers alike.

“The key to George Mason’s success and value to this region is that you do not just provide a degree to your students, you provide practical education that’s immediately applicable,” Curtis said. “George Mason students come out job ready.”