By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald

Area community college students looking for a smooth path to finish their four-year degrees are taking advantage of a new program at Texas A&M University-Central Texas.

This spring’s graduating class is the second to include members who have opted to take part in the university’s Warrior Corps, a program that helped them transition through four years of school at two different colleges with less hassle.

“These community college students are signing up for a comprehensive plan that maps out a path to a four-year degree,” said John Pruett, an academic counselor for the program at A&M-Central Texas. “It allows students at the community colleges we have partnered with to know exactly what course requirements they’ll complete and ensure that the credits they earn will transfer to a four-year program here.”

The university has reached agreements with its neighbor, Central Texas College, as well as Temple College, allowing it to implement the program for students.

Pruett said two-year students must decide on a degree program and sign a contract. The contract requires them to finish the program within six years.

Most importantly for the students, the agreement includes prerequisite classes they take in community college, ensuring those credits will be “locked in” and count toward their four-year degree at the university when they transfer.

“Sometimes, a school will change the requirements for a degree program, or what classes will count when you transfer,” said Pruett. “Barring changes to requirements by the state, this allows us to remove the hassle of having to retake classes to earn credit at a university.”

Jennifer Hetzel, who participated in the program and graduated in 2010, said the ability to keep as many credits as possible during the transfer from one school to another was one of the main reasons she chose to enroll at A&M-Central Texas to earn a degree in history.

“I looked at other schools and compared the different programs,” said Hetzel, who began as a full-time student at Central Texas College in 2008. “I didn’t want to take classes over again or take more classes because my credits wouldn’t transfer. In the end, (A&M-Central Texas) was the one that gave me the most credits toward the degree I wanted.”

The need to be able to transfer as many credits as possible isn’t just an advantage academically, but financially as well, Pruett said.

“Those credits cost money, and they cost more at the university level, so you don’t want to be paying more money for a class you’ve already taken,” he said. “The Warrior Corps program is another way we can offer a lower cost education to students coming out of community colleges.”

To date, more than 400 students at Central Texas College are participating in the A&M-Central Texas program.

Pruett said the university hopes to expand the Warrior Corps to other schools, such as McLennan Community College in Waco