National Journal Examines Success of Valencia’s DirectConnect Program

ORLANDO — Shortly after President Barack Obama called on the nation’s higher-education community to help minority students reach their full potential, the National Journal — a Washington, D.C.-based policy magazine —  sent a reporter to Orlando to study the success of Valencia’s DirectConnect to UCF program.

The DirectConnect to UCF program guarantees students who graduate from Valencia College (and three other two-year colleges in Central Florida) with an Associate in Arts degree that they’ll be guaranteed admission to the University of Central Florida. Although Florida has long had a 2+2 program,w hich guaranteed students graduating from the state’s community colleges admission to a state univesrity, the 2+2 program does not guarantee admission to the university of their choice.

DirectConnect to UCF has provided a seamless transition for Valencia students who want to earn their bachelor’s degrees, but it has also made UCF a more diverse campus, where 31 percent of UCF’s 2012-13

National Journal reporter Sophie Quinton visited Valencia and UCF, interviewing students and administrators about DirectConnect, which has won raves from national education experts.

ORLANDO, Fla.—At Daniel Salas’s central Florida high school, students had a lot of reasons for not going to college. “I don’t have the money now. I need to work more. I don’t have the time. It’s not on my priority list,” the 20-year-old recalls, listing a few. Some local teens dismiss nearby Valencia College, a former community college, as “the 13th grade”—just another year of high school. Others worry they won’t be able to get in to Valencia, even though Valencia has an open-admissions policy.

 In Osceola County, only about 40 percent of students pursue higher education right after high school. The biggest private-sector employers here are Wal-Mart and Walt Disney World, and, despite the suburban sprawl, it’s not unusual to pass a cow pasture. The area has a fast-growing Hispanic and immigrant population, and many parents don’t have college degrees themselves. Four years of full-time, in-state university tuition, low by national standards at about $24,000, would be an unimaginable expense for many families.

Daniel Salas, 20, raised in the Dominican Republic, sees Valencia as the first, surest step in his goal to become a surgeon. Salas, an aspiring surgeon who grew up in the Dominican Republic, turned down offers from three state universities so he could start his path to medical school at Valencia. He’s saving money because he can commute from home, and his tuition—about $3,000 per year for full-time students—is offset by scholarship money.

Through his associate’s degree program, Salas is taking classes aligned with first- and second-year course work at a state university. And he’s guaranteed admission to the University of Central Florida when he completes the two-year degree. “That was one of my conditions to coming to Valencia. One day I would want to go on to UCF,” Salas says. He doesn’t need to start out at UCF to earn a UCF bachelor’s degree.

DirectConnect, a regional agreement between UCF and four former community colleges (now Florida College System institutions), amplifies Florida’s already strong system of transfer from associate’s degree programs to state universities. DirectConnect students get the security of guaranteed admission to a specific institution, additional advising, and can even earn UCF bachelor’s degrees without leaving their local Florida College campus.

Click here to read the rest of the National Journal article on DirectConnect to UCF.