A ‘life-changing’ opportunity

The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program has expanded to Southwestern Community College to help more community college students gain admission to UNC-Chapel Hill

When Carolina’s Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Rebecca Egbert looked at a North Carolina map, she saw the traditional mountains-to-sea footprint but also noticed something was missing.

The Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, Egbert noticed, only covered a portion of the state.

“You could tell that the program has been centered in central and eastern North Carolina,” Egbert said. “We were anxious to move further west. We want to cover as much of our state as we possibly can.”

Thanks to a new partnership between UNC-Chapel Hill, C-STEP and Southwestern Community College  —  located about 45 minutes southwest of Asheville — that westward expansion is happening. Southwestern is the 11th community college to join C-STEP, a program that helps community college students gain admission to Carolina.

Through C-STEP, low- and moderate-income high school and community college students who enroll in one of the program’s partner colleges are guaranteed admission to Carolina if they complete the community college portion of the program with at least a 3.2 GPA.

Southwestern Community College students are expected to begin entering the program this spring.

“Access to higher education is a huge priority in this area because we are a rural area,” said Deanne Opperman, a chemistry instructor and C-STEP program coordinator at Southwestern Community College. “To have our students be able to enter in at Chapel Hill is going to be life-changing for this community.”

The C-STEP partnership between Carolina and Southwestern Community College was initiated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which has a large population in the region surrounding the community college.

“Those students who go off to Chapel Hill and really forward their education and hit career goals will potentially come back into this local area and be able to really help further this community,” Opperman said.

Current C-STEP partners include Alamance Community College, Cape Fear Community College, Carteret Community College, Central Carolina Community College, Craven Community College, Durham Technical Community College, Fayetteville Technical Community College, Robeson Community College, Sandhills Community College and Wake Technical Community College.

Adding Southwestern Community College to that list will help Carolina achieve one of its most important missions — serving all North Carolinians.

“We want to be able to provide access and support for students who have not traditionally chosen Chapel Hill to enroll in,” Egbert said. “There are many other students, traditional and non-traditional alike, who, perhaps, think Carolina is just out of reach — it’s too far, it’s not affordable. We want to show them it certainly is.”