George Mason University

News at Mason

Inaugural group of ADVANCE students enrolls this fall

September 27, 2018   /   by Preston Williams

Mason welcomed the first group of students enrolled in the ADVANCE program as part of its orientation in August. Photo provided by NOVA.

George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) have welcomed the first group of students to the ADVANCE program, a partnership that provides a more seamless and affordable path to a college degree.

This fall, 129 students are enrolled across 21 majors, and more than 200 additional ADVANCE students are set to enroll this spring.

Michelle Marks, Mason’s vice president for academic innovation and new ventures, said the university expects to expand offerings to 50 ADVANCE majors by the 2019-20 academic year, and projections indicate that ADVANCE enrollment could swell to more than 6,500 students by 2030.

“We’re developing what could become a national model for supporting transfer students,” Marks said.

The ADVANCE program seeks to create greater access to a four-year degree by removing many of the obstacles that deter students along the way. It also aims to help students save up to a year’s worth of tuition on a four-year degree.

Nationally, 80 percent of community college students say they intend to complete a four-year degree. Within seven years, however, only 15 percent have achieved that goal, in part because of barriers they encounter. The ADVANCE programs align Mason and NOVA curricula, advising, financial aid and other student services to remove obstacles and decrease the time and cost for NOVA transfers to graduate from Mason.

The first group of ADVANCE students is a diverse one—18 percent African American, 16 percent Asian, 15 percent Hispanic, 15 percent white, 15 percent two or more races and 21 percent unknown. Their average age is 22.

The 60 credit hours they earn at NOVA will align with Mason degree requirements, with no wasted credits, resulting in a potential savings of thousands of dollars. According to a Virginia Community College System study, Virginia community college transfer students pay for almost a semester’s worth of excess credits by the time they graduate from a four-year college.

ADVANCE students work with a success coach who takes an all-encompassing approach to advising, financial aid, career coaching and other guidance and is the primary point of contact throughout the students’ time both at NOVA and Mason. That consistency is crucial. Many ADVANCE students are the first in their families to navigate the college process, and the coaches, as Marks says, “lift barriers and play an important support role.”

ADVANCE has four success coaches and is in the process of hiring one more. These advisors will be dispersed among NOVA’s campuses so they are accessible to ADVANCE students. As students move from NOVA to Mason, the coaches will also keep office hours at Mason to maintain continuity in those relationships.

For the initial offering of ADVANCE programs, organizers chose several majors related to the high-demand technology and health industries. Regional employers, enthusiastic about ADVANCE as a pipeline that can help them fill critical job openings, have contributed to scholarship and programming funds, and Marks expects to announce at least one major gift at an ADVANCE launch event Monday, Oct. 29. In addition, area employers serve on ADVANCE advisory councils.

“They realize the value of the region’s two largest educational institutions coming together and working even more closely to produce the next generation of talent,” Marks said. “They’re very interested in supporting a diverse workforce.”

Learn more about ADVANCE.