Path to the Plains

Auburn University president Steven Leath (left) and Southern Union president Todd Shackett sign the Path to the Plains partnership

A new partnership between Auburn University and Southern Union State Community College provides an alternative path for first-time college students looking to transfer to Auburn.

The program, Path to the Plains, is designed to provide students a smooth and affordable transition from Southern Union to the Auburn community.

“If you’ve been taking a class at Auburn every semester from the beginning, then you don’t have as much of an adjustment when you transfer fully,” said Cary Curtiss, coordinator in the Office of Academic Effectiveness at Auburn. “I really believe that the students are going to be successful.”

Path to the Plains requires students completing their associate degrees at Southern Union to also take at least one class at Auburn per semester.

Julie Huff, director of strategic initiatives and communications for the provost’s office at Auburn, said this program will help students realize their dreams of attending the university by allowing them to pay Southern Union rates for Auburn classes.

“The goal of the program and the whole onus of it was to create accessible and affordable pathways,” she said. “The affordability piece comes into play because we know we have great students in our state that want to come to Auburn, but it’s just not an affordable option for them.” 

Southern Union students will pay $129 per credit hour at Auburn during the concurrent-enrollment period. The current rate at Auburn for in-state residents is about $400 per credit hour, Huff said.

The program, which begins this fall, offers three majors — biosystems engineering, public relations and geospatial and environmental informatics.

“Those are highly sought-after majors related to students that transfer from Southern Union,” said Linda North, dean of academics at Southern Union. 

North also said students will be able to earn their degree in four years because of how the program is structured.

“Some of the engineering classes start beginning their first year at Auburn,” she said. “If they don’t get the opportunity to take those, they might have to stay in school another semester.

“By doing this with these particular majors, the students will have that opportunity to complete their college degree in four years.”

About 400 students attended Southern Union at some point prior to enrolling at Auburn for the 2018 to 2019 school year, Huff said.

While not drastically increasing enrollment, Curtiss said Path to the Plains will admit 10 students per major in its inaugural year.

“That’s not a huge increase, but that is just the first year. In the future we have to add more majors into it, more programs and open up those caps some,” Curtiss said.

Huff said this program will open the door for Alabama residents from a variety of backgrounds, diversifying the student population. 

“It really fulfills and embodies the land-grant mission because it ensures we are serving our primary population, which are Alabama students and residents,” she said. “It gives them the opportunity to attend the university … students who might not have otherwise thought they could attend Auburn.”

North agreed, saying the program will strengthen students’ thoughts and self-esteem. 

“We have a lot of first-generation college students from rural Alabama,” North said. “This gives them the opportunity to see that this is possible. It’s going to build them up.” 

Curtiss said she believes the program will also help bridge the gap between institutions like Auburn and community colleges throughout the state. 

“We want to support each other, and sometimes I think there can be a little bit of a disconnect,” she said. “The more we can work together and make it easier for students to transition between the two, the better for everybody.” 

Working collaboratively, Auburn and Southern Union developed Path to the Plains within a nine-month period.

“When you get the right leaders together that are all focused on the same thing, it creates a lot of momentum to go forward with programs like these," Huff said. "We’ve created something that we didn’t have that meets a need that is out there."

North also commended the vision and determination of leaders from both institutions.

“We worked nine months on this project with Auburn, and it’s off the ground. That’s a miracle,” North said. “It shows you the openness of the leadership at Auburn, the openness of the leadership at Southern Union.” 

Applications for Path to the Plains are due July 1. For more information on the program, visit 

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