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Chris Furmato, 21, of Flemington in Hunterdon County, came all the way to Stockton University in Galloway Township on Tuesday to attend a special recruitment event for potential transfer students.

Furmato got his associates degree from Raritan Valley Community College and is touring four-year colleges to see where he will complete a bachelor’s in business administration. He also is considering Montclair, Monmouth, Ramapo and Seton Hall.

His father, Matt, who has another son in college, said Chris has no debt from the community college, so can be more flexible about where he will finish his last two years.

“Even if he has to borrow some money, the debt won’t be crushing,” he said.

In the fall of 2014, almost 24,000 New Jersey college students moved from one college to another in New Jersey, according to transfer data compiled by the colleges for the U.S. Department of Education. More than 21,000 entered a four-year public state college, and two-thirds, almost 9,400, came from a community college.

The state’s 19 two-year colleges have always provided an affordable entranceway to a four-year degree. But since the recession, and thanks to a state law that made the process easier and more efficient, more students have been taking that route.

The four-year colleges are not only embracing them, increasingly they are competing for them.

Stockton University, which has a reputation as a transfer-friendly college, accepts about 1,000 transfer students each fall, a group almost as large as the incoming freshman class.

Dean of Enrollment Management John Iacovelli said while Stockton used to be the primary option for students from Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties, more four-year colleges have also started offering completion degrees on county college campuses.

Rutgers has a site at Atlantic Cape Community College, and Kean this year celebrated 10 years at Ocean County College.

“There is a lot more competition this year,” Iacovelli said. “It’s really no secret. We are in a bit of a recruiting war.”

According to Atlantic Cape data, of the cohort of freshmen that started in 2012, 117 graduated and transferred, and 177 transferred before graduating. Most went to Stockton, Rowan and Rutgers.

More than 60 percent of graduating students from Ocean County College’s freshman class of 2012 transferred to a four-year college or university within one year after graduation, according to data from the college. Graduates’ top choices were Kean, Stockton and Rutgers, but students also chose Georgian Court University, Rowan, Monmouth University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and The College of New Jersey.

Rowan University developed partnerships with the Gloucester and Burlington county colleges that included changing their names to “Rowan Colleges” and allowing students to use the facilities and even live on the Rowan campus. The link gives students an immediate connection to the four-year college even if they are still attending class at the county college campus, said Rory McElwee, associate vice president of student retention at Rowan.

“The partnership helps students recognize the depth of commitment we have to making the process as smooth as possible,” McElwee said. “Our goal is to encourage students to consider all options.”

Transfer students, especially those from county colleges, are a good bet, having already proven they can successfully complete college work.

McElwee said the students also have become more savvy, using the NJTransfer website to compare programs to make sure their classes will transfer.

The difficulty of transferring credits has been a major drawback of the process, and a recent study of 10 states, not including New Jersey, found losing credits when they transfer was among the biggest challenges students face. A New Jersey law that calls for greater alignment of courses has made a difference.

“It’s not enough just to transfer credits, they have to align with the students’ major so they don’t have to repeat courses or fall behind,” McElwee said.

Iacovelli said Stockton’s transfer students graduate at the same rate as traditional freshmen. McElwee said Rowan transfers do even a little better.

Students at the Stockton transfer event said they started at a county college because it was more affordable, and some weren’t yet sure what they wanted to major in. For nontraditional students, it eased the transition to college.

Richard Jeffries, 50, of Mays Landing, will start training for a doctoral degree in occupational therapy at Thomas Jefferson University this year. He started at Atlantic Cape Community College, then transferred to Stockton University, where he got a bachelor’s degree in health sciences in May.

“It was good for me to start at a community college then transfer,” said Jeffries, who spent 26 years in the casino industry before his job disappeared and he decided to make a career change. “I was 20 years out of school and needed some remedial. Then Stockton helped me plan a career.”

Jessica Quartuccio, 19, of Bayville is attending Ocean County College but also planning her future, very possibly in Stockton’s new exercise-science program.

“All of my my friends went away for college, and now some are coming back,” she said. “I stayed here, and, with a scholarship, my first year at OCC only cost me about $100.”

Contact: 609-272-7241

Twitter @ACPressDamico

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