Pierce College District joins American Honors program

Academics: National program to provide eligible students a network of four-year universities

of the HeraldFebruary 26, 2014 

As part of a continued commitment to providing students opportunities for advancement and completion, the Pierce College District, which encompasses Puyallup and Fort Steilacoom campuses, has partnered with American Honors, a post-secondary program with a transfer network of four-year universities.

“We’re impressed with the ability for our students to have additional opportunities to transfer,” Pierce College District Chancellor Michele Johnson said. “It gives students access to a group of universities that they may not have had access to before.”

American Honors is a program under the umbrella of Quad Learning, Inc., based in Washington, D.C. Chris Romer, Quad Learning’s president and co-founder, said American Honors will begin to recruit and select qualified students for the program starting this spring.

“We do selective admission,” Romer said. “We take students who show extraordinary grit, are academically strong and show determination to do well. We don’t have a minimum GPA.”

In addition, American Honors will provide Pierce College student-advising services and instructional-design services to faculty members.

“We give students a personal coach that helps them develop a four-year plan,” Romer said. “We don’t provide faculty and curriculum. We manage the transfer process and actively speak to those transfer universities and advocate for the students and get them the best financial-aid packages.”

Within the network are more than 30 public and private four-year universities. They include several state schools such as the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, and Gonzaga University and Whitworth, both of which are in Spokane.

Past students have transferred to schools like Stanford, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Michigan, USC, Rutgers, Reed and Occidental. Many have received significant financial scholarships, according to an American Honors news release.

“We’re very excited about Pierce College and students in the south Seattle area having this new option,” Romer said.

An added benefit of the program is the cost savings it provides students, Romer said. Attending a two-year college and transferring to a four-year university equals about a 40 percent reduction on average in tuition fees, he said.

“Quite often, the price point per quarter is less than the typical four-year university,” Romer said. “We’re substantially lower.”

Johnson said that’s welcome news. Tuition at Pierce College is $4,000 per year for a full-time student. One who enters the American Honors program starting this fall will pay $6,900 per year. She said that’s because curriculum established by Pierce College for the program will be more rigorous than traditional classes.

“All of our courses are rigorous, but it really takes students to another level,” Johnson said. “It’s the way in which they work as cohort. There is a serving-learning component. We’re moving it to an application level. We’re trying to prepare them for Tier 1 schools.”

Johnson said Pierce College staff members are in the process of identifying which courses will be part of the honors program, and which faculty members will teach them.

“On a 90-credit, two-year program, about 40 to 45 credits of the 90 credits will be in honors, and the other credits will be in general transfer,” Johnson said.

She anticipates 100 to 150 students will be admitted into the program during its first year.

“That will depend on the interest and our ability to get courses developed and up and running,” she said.

In years to come, Johnson anticipates enrollment could reach 500 to 600 students. Students will start to enroll this spring, Johnson said.

She added she’s also excited about the prospect of providing the honors program to the college district’s military and international student populations.

“The idea is we want to have a diversified population,” Johnson said. “Community college has always been about access and serving everyone. There is a phenomenon called undermatching, where you have people with capabilities to perform but they don’t have the family history or connections to access those options. We’re giving them the tools they need. They are capable performance-wise but don’t have the key to the door. We’re unlocking the door and providing additional access for them.”

Pierce College District is one of five community college districts in the United States that is partnering with American Honors. It is the second community college to join in Washington state following the Community Colleges of Spokane. Other campuses nationwide are in Indiana and New Jersey.

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