Hoo’ville, here we come!

Getting into UVA has never been easier– at least for students of Virginia community colleges. Today, UVA announced a new initiative that guarantees transfer admission to Virginia Community College students with a 3.4 GPA.
Though there are a few other requirements (students must have no grades lower than C and must have at least a B in introductory English), the program could revolutionize Virginia's system of higher education, says Waldo Jaquith, one-time City Council candidate and former Piedmont Virginia Community College student.
"A four-year university isn’t right for everybody," says Jaquith. "It’s great for kids to start with an associate's degree, and if they want to go on, let them go on."
Unfortunately, the initiative comes too late for Jaquith, now 27, who attempted to transfer into UVA from PVCC with an A average not once but three times. He was rejected each time, despite credentials including starting his own software company, running for public office, and winning two VH1 awards for his Dave Matthews Band fan website, nancies.org. The explanation: the home-schooled Jaquith didn't have a high school diploma from an accredited school.
In one awkward episode at a dinner for software execs, UVA president John Casteen introduced young Jaquith– who then owned a web-development firm– to the executives as one of "our best students."
But despite his rejections– and Casteen's misstatement– Jaquith, who graduated from Virginia Tech in December, says he's not bitter.
"It would have been nice if that program had been around when I had applied," he says, "but I don’t begrudge others that opportunity. If the next half-generation down from me gets to transfer into UVA from PVCC, that’s wonderful."

16 comments

Good luck to the PVCC 3.4 students in their first semester at UVA. This is a terrible idea--most of the people who are capable of a 3.4-3.6 range at a community college would get smoked at UVA.

If you're good enough from PVCC or any other community college, you'd get into UVA anyway. And yeah, I did it twice.

DblHoo, I think your viewpoint neglects to consider the smart people who can afford to study part-time at PVCC while working full-time but can't do so at UVa (financial aid really doesn't work for everyone). Also, there are plenty of kids who are quite capable of a great deal but have the misfortune of being on the front lines of their parents' divorce or some other grade-suppressing tragedy at that time in their lives. Finally, Jacquith's experience points to a different issue -- that some of the smartest kids have non-standard educational backgrounds, and UVa is the one missing out.

Jill,

One, don't we have AccessUVA to make sure that any student with the talent to be a UVA student but not the funds can attend? Two, wouldn't personal circumstances like the ones you mentioned be a large factor in a normal, non-automatic transfer application? Three, isn't the problem with Jacquith's denials a systematic rule against home schooled kids, not the lack of automatic admission from community college? If we assume that an "A average" (which I take to mean a 4.0) at PVCC would qualify a student for normal, non-automatic transfer admission, how does this help people in Waldo's former situation?

Yes, this might admit some community college students who would otherwise not gain admission but deserve it. But, I put forth, the regular transfer admission process should handle that. This system will admit a lot of people who can only muster a 3.4 average in a far easier curriculum, and will be destined to fail at an elite university. (And to anyone who says PVCC is just as hard as UVA, I ask you, where do tons of UVA pre-meds take Organic Chemistry, etc. in order to avoid the incredibly difficult UVA weedout classes? Piedmont.)

Wait a second, what happens if there are a thousand such students who wish to take advantage of this, and have such qualifications? I do not think that UVa can simply add them in, and that will be a thousand very talented high school and transfer students (including large state schools like JMU and GMU) who may miss out on their first choice. While I do not expect such a large number to do so, there certainly is the potential for a large transfer that could affect a lot of students. The standard transfer process should be adequate.

What makes this valuable (at any GPA threshold) isn't convenience for community college students, but that it's a step towards overhauling our state's educational infrastructure. Our four-year universities are stretched to the breaking point. It's time for a new school or two, but things would be helped much more by expanding our existing community college program. Providing kids with a low-cost method of attending school -- PVCC is a bargain -- for the first two years could do wonders for students, parents footing the bill, and our school system's capacity.

Also, for any liberal arts student (the only course to which I can speak), the classes at PVCC are every bit as challenging as those at state universities, if not more so (given that they're smaller and it's consequently harder to go unnoticed). I've never taken organic chemistry (thank God), but I did take about 3/4 of my 100 and 200 level courses at PVCC and 1/4 at Virginia Tech; I found the former to be generally better experiences in which I learned more. Discussions with fellow VCCS transfer students have indicated that this is pretty much par for the course.

Waldo,

Not to be a snob, but Tech is not known for its liberal arts departments. I have dealt with many people at UVA who have taken summer classes at PVCC for a variety of reasons, and every single one of them told me that every single class would be an easy A. That is, if they could transfer their grades to UVA, which they can't.

DblHoo, to address your points above:

(1) AccessUVa is still being phased in; it will be a couple more years before it assists "everyone" who needs it. In addition, financial aid is a dicey thing. The current income requirement is up to 200% of the federal poverty level (currently $20K x 2 = $40K for a family of four, $16.6K x 2 = $33.2K for a family of three) -- I can think of plenty of paycheck-to-paycheck families who earn levels above that. Also, there are always the kids who look like their families have money on paper but one parent refuses to pay because the other has custody, or the value of a parent's home or business disqualifies them but for whatever reason they can't/won't borrow against it, etc. It's a program that's a great step in the right direction, but it does not solve the problem universally.

(2) Personal circumstances are considered in the admissions process, but the depth of them is usually impossible to communicate on paper to an admissions officer -- there is just too much competition because there are too many kids trying to go to college these days. Let's say a kid's mom dies during her junior year of high school. Her grades go down, she can't take on all the extracurricular activities she needs in order to compete with other candidates, so UVa is out of the picture in her immediate future. But she graduates and starts taking classes at her community college, by which time she's healthy again, making the good grades she used to before her loss. As I understand this program, she would not be denied a transfer -- her high school performance is effectively negated by her strong post-secondary performance.

(3) Yes, the problem is a bias against home-schooled kids -- but again, as I understand it, this new program means it doesn't matter where your high school diploma is from; if you make the grades at a community college, you are in, period.

Waldo's point about easing the burden is a great one; between the population increase in the current college-age generation and the fact that going to college is much more "mainstream" than ever before, there are simply not enough slots to accomodate everyone who wants and can readily achieve a four-year degree. The infrastructure has to change, and this is a good step.

"Not to be a snob, but Tech is not known for its liberal arts departments."

Ah, but you *are* being a snob.

I have an extremely difficult time believing that UVa's Statistics 101, Earth Science 101, or English 101 classes differ significantly from Virginia Tech's or PVCC's similar courses.

My wife attended PVCC for two years before transferring to UVa. I have at least a dozen friends who have taken the same course with whom I have discussed this matter. They all agree -- the standard set of 100/200 courses for liberal arts students are as good or better at PVCC than they are at UVa, by virtue of the smaller class sizes and near-identical curricula.

Waldo,

You said that your experience at PVCC was not unlike (in fact, you said better) than your experience at Tech. In departments (I assume, I don't stalk you and have your transcript) like English, History, and Government. Why are we talking about Tech? Why are we talking about the 78th best school in the country (and that's largely on its engineering program) when discussing who should be admitted to UVA? How is that relevant? If you are saying that Tech is low enough to be at a community college level, well, I can't argue with you.

Why are the 100/200 level classes at PVCC "as good or better" than at UVA? Because they are taught more like high school, perhaps? In high school, material is pretty much jammed down your throat. Weekly chapter tests and a million other assignments means that you have to routinely show that you've learned the material. This works when the material is easy to learn, but the university model is based on substantial self-study because it would simply take too long to explain complex concepts to each student in a way that everyone would be ensured of getting it. You learn on your own in college--you don't in high school. Do you at PVCC?

Second, who cares if SomeClass 101 is the same at PVCC as at UVA? If you're really smart, and go to PVCC, I'm sure you won't have trouble with upper level classes at UVA. Of course, if you're really smart and go to PVCC, you should be able to transfer to UVA without this preposterous program. (And, in your case, I recognize a fault in the system that should not have been.) People who get 3.4 GPAs at a community college might be very smart--or they might be taking advantage of a talent pool that just can't measure up. Admitting all of them automatically is surely going to dilute the talent pool at UVA--something I, as an alumnus, care very much about.

Jill:

1. If you argument is for increased financial aid for working families that otherwise could not afford a UVA education but qualify in every other respect, I'm all for it. But you seem to be arguing that just because there are some smart poor people around, we should automatically admit plenty of not-smart, not-poor people who happen to go to community college for whatever reason. I don't understand the connection.

2. As I understand this argument, you think it is too difficult for us to adequately run the admissions process at UVA, so we should just let anybody in? I'm sure the top-notch faculty will love this and definitely not leave for comparable institutions where the students have accomplished more than getting by two years of community college. If a PVCC student has a 3.4 GPA in all 100-level courses, and a 930 SAT, should he be admitted to UVA?

3. Making "the grades at a community college" is not hard--when the standard is 3.4. I am sure that many of us could get a 3.4 in our sleep there. We as a society have to understand that there is college material and there is not. In the 1960s, the vast majority of high school graduates did not go to college--they learned a trade or worked in a field that did not require higher education. College, then, was a big deal--and certainly attending the best university in the South was a big deal. Now, we have reduced college to being of the masses, anyone can go to college, spend six figures over four, five, six, seven years, graduate and become a secretary. There are plenty of 4-year colleges in this state that are just embarassing--we don't need to make UVA embarassing for the sake of access.

DblHoo,

1) Dumb rich kids don't go to community colleges. They get accepted to places like Yale on their legacy. And yes, to UVa as well. Just drive down University Avenue sometime; odds are you'll hit one.

2) I wasn't knocking UVa's admissions process at all, just pointing out that there's a lot that can't be communicated on paper as clearly as grades. And with all the SAT prep classes these days, the validity of SAT scores as an actual measure of college success is on the decline more than ever. Again, economic access comes into play.

3) Unlike Waldo, I have no personal PVCC class experience, and it sounds like yours is all hearsay (albeit very passionate hearsay). I have a proposal for you: go to sleep for two years, take a bunch of PVCC classes, and report back to us. Meanwhile, quit missing everyone else's valid points through your elitism.

How have I missed anyone's "valid" points? I have responded to all of them. By definition, I have not missed them.

Dumb rich kids do not go to Yale or UVA. If you are rich, a legacy, whatever, and you get an 800 on your SAT, you do not go to either school. Period. Stop with the liberal egalitarian whining that the world is out to get you--being a legacy helps, but you have to have the goods, too.

Dude, it's people like you who give us UVa alums the reputation of being pricks.

DblHoo, there is a difference between responding to a point and understanding its implications. Nobody is whining that the world is out to get anybody; I'm holding an intelligent discussion and you're making (wildly inaccurate) assumptions about my politics. There's nothing more I need to add here.

What about wanting standards for what used to be a top-notch academic institution is prickish? Or are you upset that you can't respond to my point about the 3.4 PVCC kid with a 930 SAT?

Hey, why don't we let everybody in! Yeah, it'll be a big morale booster for the masses. They'll all get to say they went to UVA. And the value of that degree won't decline at all...

DblHoo -

The value of your degree has been declining for years due to the deterioration and lack of support of your "Honor Code". When the University's "students" begin defining honor in degrees, more is lost than the value of your degree.

This plan is a terrible idea for all the reasons DBLhoo has presented.

I've taken classes at PVCC (I'm a UVa grad) and they are hella easy- I can't believe someone disputes this.

Why don't we just get rid of admission standards all together? That would be easier and save the U a bunch of cash.

I'm also curious if the fervent supporters on this board are U alums...I'm guessing no.

And, what the hell does the honor system have to do with this? IIRC, the honor arguments were about degrees of penalty based on the infraction, not honor as a concept.

Again, this is such a dumb idea. Way to go Casteen!!