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Eastern Illinois University Provost Blair Lord, left, and Heartland Community College President Rob Widmer chat after signing a "reverse transfer" agreement between the two schools Tuesday at Heartland's Normal campus.

LENORE SOBOTA, The Pantagraph

NORMAL — Heartland Community College and Eastern Illinois University officials signed a “reverse transfer” agreement Tuesday night that will make it easier for students who transfer to receive an associate's degree.

Under the agreement signed before Tuesday's board of trustees meeting, a student who completes at least 30 credit hours of coursework at Heartland, but transfers to EIU before completing an associate's degree can have transcripts sent back to Heartland each semester.

Heartland will compare the courses completed at Eastern to those required for an associate's degree. If requirements are met, Heartland will award the degree at no cost to the student.

The agreement will serve several purposes, but officials from both schools agreed the key benefit is to the students.

Reaching a benchmark — such as receiving an associate's degree — can encourage students to persevere toward their bachelor's degree, explained Rick Pearce, Heartland's vice president for learning and student success.

In short, Heartland President Rob Widmer said, “Success leads to success.”

In addition, if a student drops out before receiving a bachelor's degree, having an associate's degree can help them when seeking a job, suggested Blair Lord, EIU provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Having such agreements “is not unique to Illinois,” but it hasn't received a lot of attention here, Lord said.

EIU started such a reverse transfer with Lake Land Community College in nearby Mattoon about a year ago, Lord said.

“We now have the pattern,” Lord said, making it easier to adapt the program for other community colleges. Richland, Danville and Parkland community colleges already have made inquiries, he said.

Pearce said he wants to “give this a little bit of time to play out,” then approach Illinois State University about a similar program.

Ward said, “We hope that it becomes the model for the state.”

During the board meeting, Doug Minter, vice president of business services, gave board members a preliminary report on the budget for fiscal year 2016. The tentative budget will be presented to the board at its June 9 meeting.

“We don't anticipate any trouble putting together a balanced budget in June,” Minter told the board.

But he cautioned that a lot can change in a month and between June and the final budget in September.

“One of the most critical assumptions is enrollment projection,” Minter said. “That could have a significant impact on the bottom line.”

At this point, Minter is projecting a credit hour enrollment decline of 1.5 percent over the year.

Follow Lenore Sobota on Twitter: @pg_sobota

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