Bear Bound: Lenoir-Rhyne Partners with Community Colleges to Expand Access, Lower Costs

LR president with community college presidents

Lenoir-Rhyne University and 14 local and regional community colleges signed agreements today to expand transfer student access and make a four-year degree more affordable. Called Bear Bound, the program builds on existing efforts to make Lenoir-Rhyne a viable option for community college students who transfer after completing their associate degree.

“This initiative came from our 2019 strategic plan and is another effort by LR to be responsive to the needs of the students and families in the region we serve. We are fortunate to have outstanding community colleges in our region and wanted to enhance pathways and remove the obstacles transfer students often face,” said Fred Whitt, Ed.D., president of Lenoir-Rhyne. “I am grateful for our partner community colleges and excited to position LR as the private university partner of choice for community college transfer students in North Carolina.”

Fred Whitt at the podium
Fred Whitt, LR President

As part of this effort, LR has revised its administrative structure, hired new personnel in key areas — including academic affairs and admissions — and reset tuition to one of the lowest rates among private schools in North Carolina.

In addition, LR will implement the following benefits for students at partner community colleges as of fall 2023:

  • Transparent and seamless transfer of credits for community college students in general education. LR will now accept general education core requirements completed at community colleges. This means students will not have to take additional general education courses to satisfy LR’s requirements.
  • Lower tuition for all students. LR has reduced tuition by $13,000, from $43,000 to $30,000.
  • Financial aid packaging that improves accessibility for community college graduates to attend LR. Community college transfer students are now eligible for the LR Promise, which reduces tuition for eligible students by $15,000 before other financial aid is applied. Additional aid can further lower tuition. For example, a student from North Carolina who transfers to LR after receiving their associate degree from a partner community college and is eligible for the full Pell Grant award of $9,000 would see their tuition cut to $6,000. As a result, their four-year degree could cost as little as $12,000.
  • Campus housing for community college students. LR now offers housing for students enrolled at local community colleges, hosting between 10 and 12 such students per semester over the previous two years.
  • Expedited pathways for students in professional programs. LR is dedicated to working with each institution to develop a clear roadmap for students pursuing these programs. For example, a high school student who completes an associate degree from a community college may apply for direct entry into LR professional programs, such as nursing, elementary or secondary education, accounting, information technology and more.
  • Seamless and cost-effective pathways for working community college nursing graduates. Any RN with an associate degree will be eligible to enroll in LR’s RN to BSN program. The program of eight courses (24 credits) can be completed in 12 months by enrolling in two courses each semester. A reduced, fixed tuition for the program will make this pathway more accessible for working adults.
  • Co-admission and joint advising models that enhance our pathways. LR is working to implement co-admission agreements with community colleges and to explore joint advising opportunities.

Whitt outlined these details at a launch event on Feb. 22 on the LR campus, noting the deeply rooted connection LR has with Hickory and the surrounding area. “In this community, it’s never about the ‘me.’ It’s about the ‘we.’ We’re better when we work together.”

Garrett Hinshaw at the podium
Garrett Hinshaw, CVCC President

“Catawba Valley Community College and our community college partners are excited to be part of the Bear Bound partnership,” said Garrett Hinshaw, Ph.D., president of CVCC. “This is a game changer for our region, easing access to a four-year degree. We are all working to provide a strong workforce for North Carolina, and we reach that goal through academic excellence.”

Community College Partners 

In addition to Catawba Valley Community College, the community colleges that have signed partnership agreements with Lenoir-Rhyne include:

  • Asheville-Buncombe Technical Institute
  • Blue Ridge Community College
  • Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute
  • Cleveland Community College
  • Gaston College
  • Haywood Community College
  • Isothermal Community College
  • McDowell Technical Community College
  • Mitchell Community College
  • Southwestern Community College
  • Tri-County Community College
  • Western Piedmont Community College
  • Wilkes Community College
Bill McBrayer at the podium
Bill McBrayer: Vice Chair of the N.C. Community Colleges Board 

Bill McBrayer, vice chair of the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges — himself an alumnus of both Lenoir-Rhyne and Isothermal Community College — underlined whom these agreements serve. “Students want a transparent and seamless transfer experience because if they hit one roadblock, they might say ‘forget it.’ This partnership is a strong example for other colleges and universities to follow throughout the state.”

Hope Williams at the podium
Hope Williams, NCICU President 

Hope Williams, Ph.D., president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, concluded the event with her congratulations to the participants. “The future is closely aligned with these partnerships and the work we do together,” she said. “The Bear Bound initiative will provide community college students in the region a seamless and affordable pathway to a four-year degree from an outstanding private, non-profit university that has served this part of the state for more than 130 years.”

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