Student Marjorie Blen compared the overwhelming process of transferring from City College of San Francisco to San Francisco State University to trying to solve a puzzle.
Though she was applying for the same major — sociology — the requirements were different for each campus in the California State University and University of California systems. Blen described a “very, very discouraging” process of cross-referencing each school, each class and even each credit to make sure she was fulfilling all the requirements correctly.
“The bureaucracy makes us feel little,” she said.
Blen shared the journey of transferring to San Francisco State during a roundtable discussion hosted by EdSource on Wednesday called “Transferring into CSU and UC: Roadblocks and Solutions.” The panel, which included representatives from California’s higher education systems, discussed the structural barriers that students like her face. Panelists also outlined plans to address these issues, including AB 928, a recent law aimed at streamlining general education requirements in California’s colleges and universities.
Most students don’t transfer: A report released from the Campaign for College Opportunity in July stated that only 4 in 10 students enrolled in California community colleges in 2012-13 transferred within six years. But for those who do, the report titled “Chutes or Ladders” describes how “one bad roll of the dice can set them back several turns.”
Community colleges are described as a place where students can save money, finish their first two years of college and then transfer to a CSU or UC campus, said Audrey Dow, senior vice president at Campaign for College Opportunity. High school students are given certain expectations about transferring from community colleges “as if it’s some very easy, magical, perfectly laid-out process, and it simply is not that.”
That’s bad news for the more than 2 million community college students in California, Dow said.
The outlook is particularly dire for the 70% of Black and Latino students who begin their higher education in community colleges.
“Their pathway to the baccalaureate degree is the transfer,” Dow said.
Yet, only 9% of Black students and 10% of Latino students transfer within four years.
The transfer process bears the unfortunate imprint of what Marty J. Alvarado, executive vice chancellor of educational services for California Community Colleges, calls the “right to fail” era in higher education. She said it is as if students need to prove that they are worthy of being there and of transferring. “We set up the structures to really weed people out,” she said. “The students bear the burden for navigating the maze that we have created and the structures across all of our systems,” she said.
Alvarado said that it’s time to start moving into the era of “student success” when it comes to transfers and pushing the burden back onto systems rather than students.
California’s four-year college systems said they are working on developing plans to streamline the transfer process.
The University of California has developed transfer pathways for the 20 most sought-after majors within the system, according to Han Mi Yoon-Wu, executive director of undergraduate admissions for the University of California Office of the President.
“The transfer pathways has been our effort to streamline transfer for students unsure of which campus they want to pursue,” Yoon-Wu said.
Dale Leaman, executive director of the office of undergraduate admissions for UC Irvine, noted that UC Transfer Admission Guarantee enables students with a certain GPA who meet certain requirements to have admission guaranteed.
One of the biggest tools to streamline the process is the creation of associate degree for transfer — known as ADT. It was created to guarantee admission into the UC and CSU systems, similar to the way A-G requirement streamlines the entry from high school to college.
The Campaign for College Opportunity noted that those who are on the pathway for an ADT degree do graduate with fewer credits, wasting less time.
April Grommo, CSU’s assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management services, acknowledges that California’s four-year colleges have a lot of work to do in educating students on transfer requirements. Many students still don’t know what an ADT is. She said the CSU system has begun to do more outreach to high school counselors.
The Campaign for College Opportunity found that only 37% of Black students with associate degrees earn the ADT degree, compared with 54% of Latino students.
Campaign for College Opportunity sponsored AB 928, which Dow said will begin to tackle some of these challenges. The law aims to put every community college student on a pathway for an ADT that aligns with their major unless they opt out.
“The idea is that on day one they are on a path to a baccalaureate degree,” Dow said.
The law also requires the UC and CSU systems to create a streamlined general education program for lower-division courses. This would standardize lower division classes in California for students who graduate with an ADT. It would fulfill the expectation that students who graduate from a community college will be able to transfer to a CSU or UC when they have finished their general education requirements.
Dow said that it may take effort and advocacy from families, students and the workforce, but it’s about what’s best for California.
Alvarado said addressing the issues with transfers is not about pointing fingers or budget or resources.
“Really we have to start looking at what sort of solutions can we create, like ADT, in the interim while we also have real conversations about dismantling structures that create these problems that limit our transfer outcomes,” Alvarado said.
Blen, now serves as lead project coordinator at Students Making a Change, a key organization in her transfer journey that provided her services and support when the transfer office at her community college was too backlogged. She recommended that as these university systems make changes, they get recommendations from transfer students — or they risk not seeing the necessary impact.
“Student voices should be heard,” she said. “I understand that it might be complicated, and sometimes administrators and teachers have a paternalistic attitude that we don’t know.” But there are a lot of transfer students in CSU and UC whose voices can be part of the process, she said.
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