Honors program coming to Pierce College in the fall

The Seattle TimesFebruary 24, 2014 

A community college honors program that aims to make the two-year degree a more reliable springboard to a selective university will be offered at Pierce College starting this fall.

Pierce College, one of the 34 public community and technical colleges in the state, will debut the American Honors Transfer Network this fall, becoming the fifth community college in the country to offer the program. It is also offered at Community Colleges of Spokane, which was one of the first schools to pilot the program.

The program describes itself as “the first national pathway program of its kind.”

It starts with a rigorous two-year program of study at a community college. Students who graduate then have a good chance of being admitted to public and private universities that are part of the American Honors transfer network.

The network includes more than 30 selective schools, including three private Washington schools: University of Puget Sound, Gonzaga University and Whitworth University.

Pierce College District Chancellor Michele Johnson said students who are admitted to the program will take about half their courses each quarter from the honors course list, which is now being developed at the college.

The American Honors degree will cost about $6,900 a year, more than the typical $4,000 annual tuition for a full course load at a community college. But Johnson said that price is below what the state’s four-year public universities charge. And because American Honors community college graduates are so desirable as transfer students, they often receive generous financial aid packages to complete their bachelors degrees.

On average, transfer students who have gone through the program have only had to pay about 18 percent of their tuition out of pocket at the four-year university they attend, with the rest coming from financial aid, she said.

They’re desirable as transfers, Johnson explained, because community college students often come from diverse backgrounds and may also be older than the typical college student. Many selective schools seek students who don’t fit the mold, especially those with a proven academic track record.

Pierce College also has many students working on degrees while serving in the military — not only at Joint Base Lewis McChord, but also at other military bases around the globe, where they take classes online. About 29 percent, or 5,353 students, out of Pierce College’s enrollment of 18,540 students are in the military.

The college expects to accept between 50 and 150 students in the first few years.

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