Atlantic and Cape May County freshman applicants to Stockton University who are denied admission will now receive a different rejection letter.

In this one, local students will get a conditional acceptance to the university: They're not admitted as freshman but can transfer in later if they go to Atlantic Cape Community College.

"They get a second chance, essentially," Otto Hernandez, the community college's vice president for academic affairs, said Tuesday. "It's a terrific benefit to students who really want a Stockton degree who don't get in the front door."

Stockton and Atlantic Cape signed a five-year agreement Tuesday to create a dual-admission program for community college students.

Under the terms of the agreement, Atlantic County and Cape May County residents will be guaranteed transfer acceptance from the community college to Stockton as long as they meet the requirements: a 2.5 grade-point average, completion of an associate's degree program, and a "C" grade or better in any prerequisite coursework.

"It provides up front that we want you, but after you've demonstrated the kind of experience that we expect prior to coming here. And it gives those individuals clear guidance and hope," Harvey Kesselman, Stockton's interim president, said Tuesday.

Atlantic Cape Community College is Stockton's top "feeder" school, this year accounting for 301 of the university's 1,032 transfer students.

Students who agree to go to Atlantic Cape Community College will be assigned a Stockton academic adviser, a move Kesselman and Hernandez said differentiates the program from other transfer agreements.

Community colleges have long amassed lists of "articulation agreements" with four-year schools, but those have been criticized as being incomplete or difficult to use.

As community colleges face greater enrollment challenges — statewide enrollment has fallen 9.7 percent decline since a fall 2010 Great Recession peak — they have sought new partnerships with four-year colleges and universities.

Amid enrollment declines, one school has found its enrollment ticking upward: Rowan College at Gloucester County.

Once known as Gloucester County College, the school changed its name as part of a partnership with nearby Rowan University, which agreed to give conditional acceptance to community college students who meet GPA requirements.

Based on that model, Burlington County College this year agreed to partner with Rowan University as well. It is now known as Rowan College at Burlington County.

Students at Rowan College at Burlington County celebrate the school’s name change. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)

"Time will certainly tell whether this becomes a true best practice, but initially I can say this: Number one, one of the biggest anxieties students face at our community colleges is transferring," said Jake Farbman, spokesman for the New Jersey Council of County Colleges.

Conditional acceptance programs such as those at Rowan and Stockton could benefit both two- and four-year schools, Farbman said.

"When community colleges were first created in this country, the whole idea was the community colleges would serve freshman and sophomore students and give the four-year schools the opportunity to really beef up," he said.

"This helps four-year schools concentrate on the graduate programs, the upper-division-level courses in those majors, so it's really a win-win for everybody."