Home Lifestyle Transfer numbers rise as Wingate caters to nontraditional students

Transfer numbers rise as Wingate caters to nontraditional students

Photo from Wingate University

WINGATE — In the summer of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic scuppered Tyshawn Wright’s plans to enroll in Wingate University. At the time, Wright’s aunt was hospitalized because of Covid, and he needed to stay near his home in Albany, Georgia.

“It was the uncertainty,” Wright says. “I’m my mom’s oldest son, and she said, ‘I don’t want to lose you too. I don’t want you to be so far away.’”

Wright’s aunt recovered, and after a year at Albany Technical College, Wright transferred to Wingate in the fall of 2021. He’s now a junior majoring in educational studies and minoring in political science, and he’s so enjoyed the transition to a four-year school that he’s become a Bulldog Guide, helping first-year students adjust to college life.

“I really like it, and I regret not being here the whole time,” he says. “But I would say it worked out in the end.”

Nontraditional paths to a four-year degree are becoming more common, even setting aside the effects of the pandemic. In increasing numbers, students are finishing their college education at a different institution from where they started, and sometimes years after they began their journey. Wingate is welcoming transfer students in larger and larger numbers. This year, 96 students transferred to the University for the fall 2022 semester, the largest number in at least seven years. That figure is up from 70 in 2020 and 76 in 2021.

Wingate highlighted those students during National Transfer Student Week, celebrated Oct. 17-21 by the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students.

The rise of the transfer student is a consequence of several factors, including the popularity of early-college programs in high schools, college athletes’ increased movement between institutions, strategic decisions made based on an expected decline in college enrollment in the coming years, and, in Wingate’s case, intentional moves to help close the social-mobility gap in the Charlotte region.

One way Wingate is closing that gap is through Gateway Scholarships, which provide a Wingate education at a much-reduced tuition rate ($2,500 per year) for students with associate degrees from select schools. Wingate has signed articulation agreements with South Piedmont Community College (in 2019) and Stanly and Central Piedmont community colleges (earlier this year), resulting in 176 Gateway Scholars so far.

Holding the door open for those students is Valerie Graham, director of transfer and specialized admissions. Every other week or so, she sets up a table at each of the three community-college campuses, where she promotes the Gateway program and answers questions. She has become a valuable resource for both prospective transfer students and those already on campus.

“Transfer students require a different level of attention on the admissions side, because they come in with credits that need to be evaluated,” says Dr. Eva Baucom, vice president of enrollment management. “It’s because of the time and attention that Wingate puts into their enrollment process that they successfully enroll and they’re successful when they get here.”

For Graham, it’s all about providing the best possible customer service, so that students feel at home at Wingate immediately, even before they’ve enrolled. Baucom likes to tell the story of one transfer student whose belongings were misplaced during move-in day and whose class schedule needed adjustments.

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“Valerie said, ‘Let me help you get this straightened out,” Baucom says. “Within a couple of hours, she had helped him find his stuff and secure a new schedule. She gives that type of attention to every student she works with.”

Smoothing the way for transfers

Transfer students bring a lot of diversity to Wingate’s campuses, encompassing military veterans, international students, students from other four-year institutions, and those who, for a variety of reasons, enrolled in community college out of high school. “There seems to be a growing number of students for whom a traditional college experience is not their need or desire,” says Dr. Travis Teague, vice provost of academic affairs. “You’ve got to be able to meet the needs of as many students as you can.”

Another group that is expected to grow in number is older adults who are returning to school to get a bachelor’s degree. “They have families and partners at home, so they’re juggling a lot and can bring that perspective into the classroom as well,” Graham says.

Graham’s appointment to her role is one of a number of ways Wingate is catering to transfer students. For one thing, recent curriculum changes have made it easier for transfer students to make the transition to Wingate. The University has dropped the number of credit hours needed to graduate from 125 to 120 and reduced the number of required Global Perspectives courses from six to four. Also, some requirements can be satisfied by a larger number of courses now than in years past.

For example, more courses can now satisfy the art and wellness requirements than previously, providing transfer students with greater flexibility.

“From a transfer perspective, anytime you can make it more flexible or allow more things to transfer in, that’s beneficial,” Teague says.

Teague is a member of the transfer team, a group of staff members that meets monthly to brainstorm ways to ease the path into Wingate for students at other schools. Increasingly, the University is seeing transfer students as more than just a niche market – and it’s one that will need to make up a larger percentage of future enrollments as higher education barrels closer and closer toward an expected drop-off in enrollment, also known as the “birth dearth.”

The articulation agreements with local community colleges are one big way to reach students who might not have been thinking of continuing their education or were looking at public institutions to do so. Wingate also opens transfer students up to merit scholarships, something that not all universities do, and transfer students also qualify for the Graduate Advantage scholarship, a $10,000 credit students can apply to a Wingate graduate program as long as they receive a bachelor’s degree from the University.

“To me, the relationships that Valerie and the institution are establishing at these partner schools are just building the reputation of Wingate being a destination for transfer students,” Baucom says.

Baucom is aiming for at least 120 transfers in fall 2023. For fall 2022, 42 students transferred from a two-year institution, with the rest coming to Wingate from four-year schools. Forty-six of the 96 transfers are student-athletes.

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