NOVA and Mason Partnership Makes Transferring Seamless
March 11, 2024

​For students at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), transferring to George Mason University (Mason) to earn a bachelor’s degree is simple. Since 2018, NOVA and Mason, both ACE members, have offered a transfer program called ADVANCE that merges student support services from both institutions, sets clear academic benchmarks for enrolling at Mason, and streamlines the transfer process.

Nationwide, although most community college students intend to complete a bachelor's degree, the vast majority fall short. Just 16 percent of community college students transfer to a four-year school and graduate within six years, according to the Community College Research Center. A major hurdle is students’ credits not transferring with them. On average, students who transfer to a four-year institution from a community college lose 26 percent of their credits, requiring them to spend additional time and money to earn a degree.

ACE is committed to making it easier for transfer students to achieve their goals, and in 2020 convened a task force to recommend best practices for transfer student success. The task force included NOVA President Anne M. Kress and was co-chaired by Anne Holton, then interim president of Mason.

“By shedding unnecessary barriers to students’ success, institutions can help ease individual students’ pathways to degrees, strengthen public trust in higher education, and reaffirm their value as an engine of economic and social mobility and justice,” Holton said when the task force released its final report.

Thousands of students transfer every year from NOVA to Mason, but after years of watching students lose credits they earned at NOVA and struggle to adjust to a new campus, administrators, faculty, and staff from both institutions teamed up to give students the best chance of graduating in four years.

“At its heart, ADVANCE is about making transfer effective,” Kress told PBS.

The only requirements to join ADVANCE are that students must be enrolled in a NOVA associate degree program, have a 2.0 GPA, and have earned no more than 30 college credits at the time of applying. Students who meet these criteria can simply complete the free one-page declaration form and be admitted to the program. When entering ADVANCE, participants select one of over 85 academic pathways that correspond to bachelor’s degrees Mason offers. The pathways spell out the courses students need to take and when to take them so that all their credits transfer.

To ease the transition between campuses, students are assigned a coach who provides holistic support throughout their college career. Participants in ADVANCE can also access Mason’s buildings, use its student resources, and get involved in student life at Mason while they are enrolled at NOVA.

Students do not need to apply to transfer. Once they graduate from NOVA, as long as they earned a 2.5 GPA, they can proceed to Mason the following semester.

“I don’t even know what I would have done if I didn’t become part of this program,” said Brittney Santos, an ADVANCE student. “It’s taken so much weight off my shoulders to know I’m on the right path.”

ADVANCE has four essential goals, Jennifer Nelson, director of university transfer and initiatives at NOVA, told the Virginia Mercury. These objectives include improving support for transfer students, increasing both campuses’ completion rates, reducing the time it takes to graduate, and lowering the cost of attaining a bachelor’s degree.

By spending their first two years of college at NOVA, students can save $15,000. In addition, ADVANCE has distributed over $2 million in scholarships and grants reserved for participants in the program.

Since 2018, enrollment in ADVANCE has swelled from 319 students to more than 4,000 in 2023, of whom 60 percent are first-generation college students and 39 percent are eligible for Pell Grants. The program has been strikingly effective: 92 percent of ADVANCE students graduate from Mason within two years of transferring.

“It requires people to sit together in a room. It requires people on both ends to modify classes to make them work together,” George Mason University President Gregory Washington told PBS, highlighting faculty and staff’s roles in ensuring the program’s success. “…but, if we provide the proper pathway, [students] actually can achieve and they will be successful.”