EAST PEORIA — Bradley University is helping clear a path for Illinois Central College students to earn a bachelor's degree.

"Today, what we are doing is building bridges," Emmanuel Awuah, ICC's  vice president of academic affairs, said during a news conference on Wednesday to announce a new academic partnership between the two schools. "You literally have to cross a bridge to get from Bradley to ICC. What this agreement does is strengthen the relationship between (the two schools)."

Awuah and Walter Zakahi, Bradley's senior vice president of academic affairs, signed a pact between their schools that makes it easier for ICC students to take their associate's degrees and continue their educations at Bradley. The partnership guarantees to ICC students admission to Bradley if they have maintained a minimum 2.5 grade point average while earning associate degrees in arts, science or engineering science.

"The classes at ICC and Bradley the first two years (of school) are basically the same," said Bradley junior Jesu Bravo, who transferred from ICC at the beginning of the current school year. "If finances are an issue, it just makes sense to come to ICC for those classes. Now it will be even easier to transfer."

Aside from guaranteed admission to eligible students, the new agreement creates several steps to ease the transfer process for students. The agreements map out what courses are needed in the fist two years at ICC and what a student is expected to complete in the next two years at Bradley in order to graduate in four years.

"Everyone wins when our excellent institutions of higher education work together, our students, our employers and our community," said ICC president Shela Quirk-Bailey in prepared remarks. "We are delighted to bring this opportunity to our students together with our partners at Bradley University."

Currently, about 100 students a year transfer from ICC to Bradley. The expectation is for that number to rise.

"Helping building this bridge is going to result in even more students on the hilltop,"  Zakahi said.

Bravo's family moved to Peoria from Mexico. He graduated from Peoria High School then started at ICC. After finishing his associate degree in engineering, he transferred to Bradley. He will enter his senior year, helped financially by a $12,000 annual scholarship he receives for maintaining a 3.25 grade point average.

"There are scholarships available for students who went to ICC to save money and then continue to need help in getting a bachelor's degree," Bravo said.

Zakahi, who has been with Bradley for three years has worked with Awuah, who has been at ICC for two years, to execute the agreement that was signed into practice at a ceremony at ICC's East Peoria campus on Wednesday afternoon.

"Now more than ever our institutions need to be working together to ensure students' success and to help meet the local workforce demands," Zakahi said.

Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at shilyard@pjstar.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.