DirectConnect paves shorter route to degree

Since its introduction in 2006, DirectConnect has helped thousands of students transfer to UCF.

The program came to light after a conversation between Valencia College President Sandy Shugart and UCF President John C. Hitt, who discussed various ways to enhance student success.

The end result of that conversation was the DirectConnect Program. The primary goal of the program is to make bachelor’s degrees more obtainable for those who are coming out of a community college.

In partnering with community colleges such as the College of Central Florida, Daytona State College, Eastern Florida State College, Lake Sumter State College, Seminole State College and Valencia College, the DirectConnect to UCF program provides guaranteed admission to the university to students who complete their associate degree with at least a 2.0 GPA.

“In the 2014-2015 academic year, 10,875 students transferred to UCF; 4,391 of those students were from Valencia College,” said Christopher Quintero, UCF DirectConnect Coordinator at Valencia East Campus.

The aim is to emphasize a shorter time to degree completion and to assist students with academic advising, financial assistance and enrollment services. Transfer students are able to create a pathway to success starting at a community college and finishing at UCF in their desired major and career field.

“We work strategically with our partner colleges and the students in the completion of their General Education Program and specific electives as prerequisites for their chosen major or career choice,” Quintero said.

Not only are transfer students guaranteed admission to the university, tuition is cheaper when beginning at a community college.

Valencia boasts that it has the lowest tuition rate of any public college in Central Florida at $103.06 per credit hour, and that a student may finish a two-year associate degree for about $6,000.

UCF’s cost per credit hour for in-state tuition is about $212.28, and $748.89 for out-of-state tuition.

About 65 percent of DirectConnect students graduate within four years at UCF, compared with the 71 percent of traditional students who finish within six years.

The opportunity for career exploration can be considered another benefit of attending a community college before heading to UCF.

For example, students at a community college who are still trying to decide what to major in have the opportunity to take classes outside of their degree as an elective without the possibility of a surcharge penalty.

“I’m a believer of letting students take different classes to see if they are in the right career path,” said Yolanda Gonzalez, an adjunct Spanish professor of 22 years at UCF. “My experience is that you are not sure what you want to be until later in life.”

Amanda Shultz, a 26-year-old senior, knew early in high school that she wanted to major in digital media and Web design.

“I didn’t see the point of dragging it out and making it longer than it had to be,” Shultz said. “I only took the classes that were necessary for my A.A. Transferring from Valencia to UCF helped me financially, saved me with travel time and the class sizes were great.”

UCF spokesman Mark Schlueb said that last year, UCF added a new tool to its DirectConnect program designed to keep transfer students on track.

It’s called the Pathway Program, and it provides guided support from a team of advisers at both the community college and UCF.

There’s also an online portal that provides 24/7 access to students and Pathway Team members that allows both parties to participate in live chats and hosted workshops.

DirectConnect students can take advantage of the program from the beginning of their college career.

As they progress through the Pathway, they earn virtual badges and rank up, climbing from Page, to Squire, to Knight and then to Golden Knight.

“Students are encouraged to meet with our teams early so that by 45 credit hours we can begin the application process to the university,” Quintero said. “My advice for all students would be to become involved and take a vested interest in the investment you are making.”

Originally published Feb. 18, 2016