During the next two weeks, Vassar students will be flooding their major advisors’ offices to get PIN numbers and discuss course offerings before pre-registration ends on Friday, Nov. 16. For some students, Vassar College’s recent agreement with Dutchess Community College (DCC) may be worth considering when planning their future studies.
Vassar College and DCC now offer students the possibility of taking courses at both institutions in a new partnership announced on Oct. 15. Full-time students can now take up to two courses per year at the other college without paying extra tuition.
Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley and DCC President Pamela Edington discussed the possibility of opening up access to the two institutions over the course of the past few months, according to a Vassar Office of Communications Oct. 15 press release. Edington said, “By leveraging the resources of both Vassar College and DCC, we will be able to provide enhanced opportunities for students of both institutions.”
She continued, “Partnerships are key to achieving shared goals.” Executive Director of the Vassar Urban Education Initiative John Bradley said that the project began a year ago with talks between members of the history departments at both institutions. “The history department [at DCC] helps run the Honors Program, and so they felt like they had students who were eligible to transfer, and they were just wondering why it wasn’t happening more frequently,” Bradley explained. Bradley said that he first heard about the discussion between the history departments from Vassar Professor of History Maria Höhn and wanted to tie it to his other efforts to open Vassar to more members of the local community. “We continue to try to find ways to encourage students from this area, particularly Poughkeepsie High School, to attend Vassar,” said Bradley. “So I think creating more bridges will be helpful.” According to Bradley, DCC is one of the most affordable colleges in New York State and offers free tuition to the top 10 graduates of high school classes. Consequently, there are financial reasons why many Poughkeepsie High School students attend DCC. Vassar utilizes a need-blind admissions process and employs a policy established in 2008 that replaces loans with Vassar scholarship funding for admitted students from Poughkeepsie High School.
DCC Spokesperson Judith Stokes said in an emailed interview that the program will help students from both schools. “DCC is a very vibrant, diverse campus with students of all ages and from all backgrounds. Our institutions already collaborate on the Model U.N. initiative; we know that DCC and Vassar students work well together, learn from one another and benefit from shared experiences,” Stokes explained.
For Stokes, the initiative will most appeal to Vassar students who would like to take summer courses if they stay in the area between terms, though students may also find courses at DCC not offered at Vassar that would be worth the commute during the semester. “Our faculty bring a wealth of real-world experience to the classroom and are engaging and accessible,” said Stokes.
Vassar Registrar Colleen Mallet explained that DCC offers courses in criminal justice and paramedic training beyond the EMT level that might appeal to pre-law and pre-med students. Calculus is the lowest level of mathematics that Vassar offers, so students who have not had exposure to higher levels of mathematics in their previous education or who have taken a leave of absence may find DCC’s mathematics program an option for advancing to a higher level.
Students will still be expected to take the full course load of at least 3.5 credits during the spring and fall terms at Vassar if they choose to enroll in DCC courses.
For students nearing the end of their undergraduate studies, the partnership may be a means by which to fill in a missing credit, Mallet explained. Because financial aid only covers eight semesters, many students look for ways to catch up over the summer. “Maybe you are a student who’s short a credit or two for graduation, so you might make it to the spring semester of your senior year and, for whatever reason, the units are just not adding up,” Mallet said. “To come back for a full semester’s tuition sometimes is prohibitive.”
Vassar Posse Foundation veterans were also considered during talks about the partnership, said Mallet. Student veterans often live in the area, and many have taken advantage of the proximity of DCC to study over the summer, so the agreement also aims to streamline the process for students who are already making connections between the two institutions.
Stokes said, “[The partnership] will provide an opportunity to take specialized or upper-level classes not available on our campus.” This will include higher-level language courses and a variety of liberal arts subjects and, as Mallet noted, Vassar often encourages multidisciplinary study, which is available to a lesser extent at DCC.
For both John Bradley and Mallet, the cooperation between the two colleges signals a continuation of Vassar’s goal to provide more students with opportunities to access higher education. Along with the Exploring Transfer program, which brings students from community colleges to Vassar over the summer, the partnership with DCC aims to encourage local students to pursue further education. Like the transfer program, Mallet said, “[The new partnership] gives [DCC students] a chance to kind of explore and to get their feet wet and see that ‘Yeah, I can be successful at this type of school, so now I’m going to start thinking about transferring.’” She continued, “It’s going to be a confidence builder.”
Because the program is still new, administrators are unsure how students will end up making use of it, Bradley explained. He said, by way of example, that Vassar had not yet created a photography program when it partnered with Bard College. Most students making use of the partnership early on were thus commuting to Bard to take photography courses, but since Vassar added photography courses, that is no longer the case. In reflecting on the future of the Vassar-DCC partnership, Bradley said, “We’ll tailor it as things happen and we’ll see what people are interested in.”
For now, the administrations of both colleges anticipate a sharing of opportunities, experience and ideas. Bradley said, “I’ve talked to a lot of people in the community, people who don’t even necessarily have students at DCC or Vassar, who just have heard about it and think it’s just a wonderful engagement between the two communities.”
He continued, “Different perspectives in the classroom are going to be interesting.”