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Vassar Wins Grant to Help Community College Students Succeed at Four-Year Schools

Photos Kevin Arce ’20 and Karl Rabe

Every summer for nearly 40 years, Vassar has been hosting students from community colleges across the country in a five-week program that helps prepare them to transfer to four-year institutions and earn bachelor’s degrees. This year, the College has received a grant to develop more robust partnerships with community colleges that take part in the Exploring Transfer program and to engage more four-year liberal arts colleges in developing such programs of their own.

Justin Patch at a podium speaking to a group of people
Associate Professor of Music Justin Patch welcomes the Exploring Transfer Class of 2022 to the Vassar campus.

The two-year, $410,000 grant, titled Exploring Transfer Together, was secured from ECMC Foundation, a national foundation that provides support for college students from underserved backgrounds.

The project was designed to more broadly engage with and disseminate research to liberal arts institutions and community college partners in order to increase opportunities for community college students to gain experience at liberal arts colleges, potentially increasing transfer rates and success.

The project will be overseen by Wendy Maragh Taylor, Associate Dean of the College for Student Growth and Engagement. Other members of the Exploring Transfer Together team are Marianne H. Begemann, Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources; Chris Bjork, Professor of Education on the Dexter M. Ferry Chair; Nicole Beveridge, Director of the Jeh Vincent Johnson ALANA Cultural Center, and the Director of Exploring Transfer. They will also work closely with President Elizabeth H. Bradley, Dean of Faculty William Hoynes, Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, and Biniam Tesfamariam, Director of Institutional Research, as well as several members of the Vassar faculty.

Group photo of 17 people in the Exploring Transfer Class of 2022
Exploring Transfer Class of 2022

President Bradley said the initiatives that will be funded by the grant were in line with the Vassar’s institutional philosophy. “Community colleges are a crucial part of higher education in the country, and Vassar has had the Exploring Transfer program for more than thirty years,” she said. “This generous grant from ECMC Foundation will help us provide some important building blocks to enhance our Exploring Transfer program here at Vassar and to help our peer institutions launch such programs of their own.”

Group of four people standing and smiling outside at a barbecue
Members of the Exploring Transfer Class of 2019 engage in conversation during a barbecue at the conclusion of the program on the Vassar campus.

Dean Maragh Taylor said she viewed the project as one more component of the College’s ongoing effort to find ways for low-income students, especially first-generation students, to succeed in college. The grant will be used in part to encourage other four-year colleges to consider using Vassar’s Exploring Transfer model. “We want to create a roadmap for other colleges to follow,” she said. “It can be one more pathway to success for colleges seeking to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Professor Bjork said some of the research that informs the initiatives being funded by the ECMC Foundation grant was conducted last year when, among others efforts, he assembled several focus groups composed of students who had been enrolled in Vassar’s Exploring Transfer program. “The responses I received were overwhelmingly positive,” Bjork said. “The program does a good job acclimating students to the academic work they will face at four-year institutions.”

Dean Begemann added that over the past four years, under the direction of Exploring Transfer Director Prof. Kariane Calta, the College has begun to identify ways in which the Exploring Transfer program can better serve the unique needs of today’s transfer students, not only academically but in all aspects of residential college life. “Our goal is to provide students with the skills, experiences and confidence that ensure success no matter what academic path they choose,” Begemann said.

ECMC Foundation Senior Program Officer Stephen J. Handel said he looked forward to learning about the outcome of the initiatives that will be funded by the grant. “ECMC Foundation is committed to the success of community college transfer students through the support of innovative and data-informed initiatives,” Handel said. “Our grant to Vassar College supports a broad-based project to identify and advance strategies for selective liberal arts colleges to prepare and enroll more community college students to attend their institutions.”

September 16, 2022
Campus Initiatives
Grants in Action