APU—A Real Community College

by Sabrina Wong

Algebra and Spanish—yes. Ballroom dance and bowling—no deal. As Azusa Pacific University’s articulation administrator, Dan King ’04 manages agreements with more than 30 community colleges regarding which courses APU accepts for credit.

Turning Classroom Learning into Dollars Saved—and Earned

While a student at Citrus College, Alondra Gutierrez ’12 pored over King’s recommendations and chose her classes accordingly. As a result, Gutierrez transferred 67 units to APU, saving approximately $60,000 in tuition—a significant amount for the 21-year-old and her family. In today’s challenging economic environment, community colleges stand as attractive alternatives to the traditional four-year college plan. Enrollment in community colleges increases as savvy students like Gutierrez cash in on moderately priced general studies classes and take their time sorting out their majors and career goals. In addition to the money saved by spending two years at a community college, transfer students know that they can count on completing their degree in two years or less after enrolling at APU—and that means entering the job market sooner rather than later, turning that classroom learning into dollars earned.

Serving Transfer Students

APU capitalizes on this trend by intentionally recruiting at local community colleges. In October 2009, David Dufault-Hunter, vice president for enrollment management, formed the Transfer Student Taskforce aimed at making the transition from community college student to Cougar as smooth as possible. “The taskforce evaluates how APU currently serves transfer students and identifies what changes need to be implemented in order to increase transfer student enrollment,” said Dufault-Hunter. With 250,000 community college students on 100 campuses statewide, Southern California represents prime recruiting ground. “We now have three admissions counselors dedicated to serving transfer students,” said Dufault-Hunter. “They engage with guidance counselors at community colleges on a regular basis, on the phone and via campus visits.” The efforts to recruit community college students pay off, with 1,973 transfer applicants in 2010, up from 915 applicants just three years ago. Pam Christian, Ph.D., who also sits on the taskforce, welcomes the diversity that community college transfers bring. “Students of color, first generations to attend college, and lower-income students all get their start in community college,” said Christian, former associate provost for diversity planning and assessment and current professor of education.

A Win-win Situation

Community college transfers create a win-win situation for universities like APU that value diversity. “The typical APU freshman comes from a middle-class, suburban, church environment,” said King. “Transfers often come from a different religious background and socioeconomic status, and diverse experiences. We can all learn from each other.” As a single mother, Gutierrez stands apart from the typical undergraduate APU student. However, she credits the APU community for making her feel at home. “I’ve never received any criticism,” she said. “Instead, people say ‘Wow, you’re a full-time student, you work, you have a baby, and you get good grades!’” Gutierrez attributes the smooth switch from Citrus to APU to her transfer counselor, Alicia Montgomery ’06, who aims to make APU as transfer-friendly as possible. “I love pouring into students’ lives, hearing about their journeys, and inviting them to experience a place where true development, challenge, and change occur on a daily basis,” she said. Montgomery reviews college transcripts, gives advice about majors, and sends out reminders regarding financial aid and admissions. She and her team also host transfer-specific preview events called Transfer Nights, where prospective students tour the campus, visit classes, and eat in the cafeteria. Tahnee Russell ’12 attended a Transfer Night and immediately noticed APU’s well-kept campus. “I was so tired of all the cigarette smoke and litter at my community college,” said Russell. “It really makes a difference to go to a Christian college!” As the first person in her family to attend college, she describes her first semester at a community college as a reality check. “I quickly realized that I wanted to do what it takes to get a college education from a four-year institution,” she said. “I’m even encouraging my younger cousin to pursue a four-year degree.”

Creating a Sense of Community and Belonging

Russell now serves as a leader on Team Transfer, a student organization that orients transfer students to APU. She and the other 35 student leaders prepared throughout the summer for more than 300 incoming transfer students this fall. “People are looking for community at two-year colleges and aren’t finding it,” said Elliot Powell ’11, graduate intern in the program. “The biggest thing Team Transfer does is bring people going through similar experiences together.” Team Transfer builds community by hosting monthly social events such as beach bonfires and scavenger hunts, as well as offering more frequent small-group gatherings. “We help transfer students know they belong,” said Russell. A sense of belonging also comes from APU’s small class sizes and the individual attention they receive from professors. “I really like talking with professors outside of class,” said Lee Young ’11, who attended El Camino College prior to enrolling at APU. “Professors here are so passionate about their work and their students. You can tell that they put God First and seek to honor Him by training students to do what God is calling them to do.” While community college can save tens of thousands of dollars up front, APU’s emphasis on God First proves priceless. “Being at APU has developed my relationship with God,” said Gutierrez. “I’m truly blessed. And I know I’m in the right place!”

Sabrina Wong is vice president of TeachOverseas, a nonprofit Christian sending agency. sabrinawong@stanfordalumni.org

Originally published in the Fall '10 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.