Eric Burgess JSU transfer student

Eric Burgess plays guitar in the band at Gadsden State Community College in Gadsden. Eric is a Gadsden State music student and transferring to JSU at a later date. (Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star)

 GADSDEN Studying music at Gadsden State Community College for nearly three years has paid off for Eric Burgess so far.

The 21-year-old Centre native has learned much and connections with teachers there helped him earn a scholarship to Jacksonville State University. He plans to transfer there this fall. Burgess said he hasn’t encountered problems in the transfer process but knows other students might.

A deal signed between JSU and Gadsden State Thursday could help make transfers for those students easier and more efficient.

“I really think the partnership will help a lot of students like me,” Burgess said. “It will give them the direction they need to move forward.”

The new Transfer Pathway Program, expected to begin in the fall, is designed to enroll Gadsden State students in the exact courses needed for their majors if they want to later transfer to JSU. Some education experts say the idea is to save students time and money in their pursuit of higher education and that the transfer deal is part of a growing trend of partnership among community colleges and universities across the country.

John Beehler, president of JSU, and Martha Lavender, president of Gadsden State, signed the Transfer Pathway Program agreement during a ceremony at the community college’s campus in Gadsden. The program was under development for six months.

Beehler said JSU has long partnered with Gadsden State and the time was right to strengthen that friendship to better benefit students.

“Students need a pathway; they need to know how to take academic programs so they don’t waste time and money,” Beehler said. “This allows the students to know what courses to take at Gadsden State and what to take at JSU for a seamless transition.”

The program will include five majors at JSU during its first year, including biology, chemistry, child development, nursing and business.

“With these first five programs, we’ll be closely monitoring how it goes for students,” said Jean Pugliese, associate dean of the college of graduate studies and continuing education at JSU who helped develop the program. “Later we’re going to add more majors with Gadsden State.”

Pugliese said the program won’t just help students. It will also help JSU as part of its larger plan to increase enrollment. Beehler has made enrollment growth a top priority. Student tuition and fees cover about 65 percent of the university's annual budget.

According to JSU statistics, 163 students transferred from Gadsden State to the university last fall.

Lavender said that on average, 50 percent of Gadsden State’s students declare an intention to transfer to JSU.

“It’s important they know which courses to take and that they have a seamless transition,” Lavender said. “We just want them to complete their degrees.”

Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, said the JSU and Gadsden State deal is part of a growing trend of cooperation between universities and community colleges.

“These transfer agreements are becoming more and more common as there’s more pressure on institutions to get students to graduate in a timely manner and with as little debt as possible,” Harnisch said. “These agreements create a roadmap to graduate so students don’t have to guess which of their credits will transfer.”

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.