CHAPEL HILL — GTCC is the newest member of a UNC-Chapel Hill program that helps community college graduates earn a four-year degree.
The university announced Friday that GTCC is now part of its Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, or C-STEP. The university also added a second college — Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte — to increase the number of schools in the transfer program to 13.
Founded in 2006, C-STEP helps talented low- and middle-income students make the jump from community college to the state’s flagship public university. About 1,000 C-STEP students have transferred to UNC-CH in the program’s 13 years. The university now has 186 C-STEP students enrolled.
At the announcement ceremony Friday, UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt said students who enroll at the university through the C-STEP program show true grit and determination. The university says 85.5 percent of C-STEP students get a degree from UNC-CH — that’s better than other transfer students and about the same as students who come to Carolina right out of high school.
“It’s just been amazing to see (C-STEP) flourish ... and to meet the amazing students that come through that program,” said Folt, who attended two community colleges before getting a biology degree at a California university. “I think it is something we care about because of the students that do it but also (because of) the transformative power of college education.”
Students at GTCC and other C-STEP schools must apply to the program. Eligible students must have good grades — A’s and B’s — in high school or community college and have a household income of no more than 300 percent of federal poverty guidelines. There’s no age limit, but potential C-STEP students cannot have finished more than one year of community college before they apply.
Once accepted into the program, C-STEP students must attend school full time, maintain a 3.2 GPA on a four-point scale and receive an associate’s degree at their home campus. They also must take part in C-STEP programs, which include academic advising, mentoring and visits to the UNC-CH campus for athletic and cultural events.
“We want them to feel like a part of the campus before they enroll,” said Rebecca Egbert, the C-STEP director.
C-STEP usually accepts no more than 15 students per community college each year. UNC-CH says it tries to meet the financial need of all C-STEP students once they enroll at the university.
Kolby Hunter told the audience at Friday’s announcement he got straight A’s at Alamance Community College so no four-year college would overlook him. During a meeting with his adviser, the 30-year-old Graham resident wondered out loud what it might take to get into UNC-CH.
“She said, ‘Well, we have a program. It’s a shot in the dark,’ ” Hunter recalled. “And I said, ‘I’ll take that shot.’ ”
Thanks to C-STEP, Hunter is now a senior at UNC-CH. He is majoring in both exercise and sport science and psychology, and serves as a mentor to UNC-CH athletes and other C-STEP students. He is now interviewing for jobs as a counselor and coach.
“UNC has definitely changed my life for the better,” Hunter said.
The addition of Central Piedmont and GTCC puts C-STEP at the state’s second- and third-largest community colleges. Wake Tech in Raleigh — North Carolina’s largest community college — is one of the original three C-STEP participants.
A $1.13 million grant from the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation will pay for the expansion. UNC-CH also plans to use some of the grant money on a new program to prepare C-STEP students for graduate school or careers in STEM and health-related fields.
Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.