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Keeping the Promise and Going the Distance on College Transfer Reform

The EvoLLLution | Keeping the Promise and Going the Distance on College Transfer Reform
California’s community college and CSU four-year campuses need to do much more to improve transfer pathways and support access and completion for more of California’s students.

There are many challenges to producing more college graduates in California, and few affordable, student-centered solutions on the table. A strong and effective transfer pathway is one of them.

California’s Associate Degree for Transfer program, established by the STAR Act in 2010, cuts through redundant and conflicting regulations and requirements that bottled up students seeking to transfer from a California Community College to a California State University (CSU) campus. Under the program, students who successfully complete 60 units of transferable coursework in community college can now be awarded an Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) and receive guaranteed admission, with junior standing, into a state university to finish their final 60 credits to earn their bachelor’s degree.

That’s a critical change. Students seeking to transfer were taking an excessive number of courses because of the uncertainties of the transfer process. That led to years of delays and made college more expensive. It is no wonder then that only 4 percent of the 2.3 million students enrolled in a California Community College transfer to a four-year university annually.

In the six years since the ADT program was established, the California Community College and CSU systems have made substantial progress in designing the program and streamlining the process.

On June 2nd, we will be honoring thirteen California Community Colleges and three CSU campuses in Sacramento who have figured out how to significantly increase the number of students earning an Associate Degree for Transfer, transferring to a CSU as a junior, and earning a bachelor’s degree. The campuses excelling at improving transfer in California include:

  • San Diego Mesa College
  • Orange Coast College
  • Moorpark College
  • Diablo Valley College
  • Pasadena City College
  • Fullerton College
  • Citrus College; Sierra College
  • Grossmont College
  • Southwestern College
  • Bakersfield College
  • Cabrillo College
  • Glendale Community College
  • CSU Fullerton
  • CSU Long Beach
  • CSU Sacramento

What these 16 institutions can teach us is that change is possible. They understand students want and need a clearly defined pathway that takes the mystery and confusion out of transfer. They understand that regional collaboration between community colleges and CSU’s is a must because most students want to stay local. They also understand that the careful review of data is important to track student progress through the degree program and provide strong guidance and counseling when and where necessary. Most importantly, they understand their role in offering students a real opportunity to transfer in a straightforward manner.

Improving the transfer pathway is good for students, makes college more affordable, and is an effective use of taxpayer funds. But more work is needed, and the leadership and cooperation of each of the community colleges and CSU campuses is required to make this happen.

In March, we released a report, Keeping the Promise: Going the Distance on Transfer Reform, that found California’s community colleges and CSU systems have collaborated to produce nearly 2,000 transfer degree pathways. And more students are earning an ADT each year: Some 20,000 students earned an ADT in 2015, nearly doubling from 2014.

Perhaps the growing popularity of the degree can be summed up by Mark Casas, a current senior at CSU Fullerton who transferred with an ADT from Orange Coast College. “What I liked about the ADT was that it gave me a clear plan for what to take both at the community college then at the CSU,” Casas said. “Having such a clear plan freed me up to join clubs and even study abroad. The ADT saved me money because I’m not taking all of these extra courses I don’t need.”

Clearly, the ADT has some real benefits for students, but we found that not all students have the ADT program available to them. Just 10 of California’s 113 community colleges award 33 percent of all ADTs in the state. Only four of the 23 CSU campuses enrolled 66 percent of all ADT earners. Just a third of ADT holders went on to actually enroll in a CSU.

That means most of California’s community colleges and state universities can do, and must do, a much better job of attracting students to the program and encouraging them to complete the transfer degree and go on to complete the four-year bachelor’s degree.

With every passing year, students who want degrees languish in our overburdened community colleges and state universities, taking longer to earn degrees—more than six years in most cases—and spending greater sums to accomplish that goal. As a result, our workforce is left wanting for more degree holders to take on existing and future jobs.

Our report provides several recommendations for strengthening the ADT program: Policymakers should continue legislative oversight of the program and require better data collection. State funding and policy priorities should support success of the ADT program. Community College and CSU campuses should strengthen their individual ADT pathways and improve communications and counseling so more students are aware of the program, enroll and go on to earn their college degrees.

The promise of the ADT to help California students and their families find an affordable, efficient pathway to a bachelor’s degree depends on community colleges, the CSU and our state leaders going the distance in fully implementing transfer reform. These 16 community colleges and CSU campuses demonstrate that strong policy followed by effective implementation can make a difference in providing true opportunity so hundreds of thousands of new Californians can call themselves college graduates.

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