• September 3, 2015

California Is Set to Ease Path for Transfer Students

California lawmakers appear set to approve a major change in the transfer process for community-college students that would standardize the requirements for transferring from a two-year college to a California State University campus.

Under the proposal, community colleges would offer a redesigned associate degree, starting in the fall of 2011. Students who earn the degree would be promised admission to a Cal State campus, where they could then complete a bachelor's degree by earning 60 units or less.

The bill authorizing the changes, SB 1440, was approved in the State Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 35 to 0. It has generated little opposition in the State Assembly, and college officials expect that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will sign it into law.

The California proposal is modeled on elements of programs in Florida and Texas, and it reflects a nationwide movement to standardize transfer pathways to increase the rate at which two-year college students go on to complete a four-year degree.

Longstanding Obstacles

In California, the requirements for transferring now vary from campus to campus and have long been decried by researchers and college counselors as difficult for students to understand. Less than a quarter of degree-seeking community-college students successfully transfer or obtain an associate degree, researchers at California State University at Sacramento have estimated.

But getting California's decentralized higher-education systems to adopt common standards for transfer students has been difficult. Jack Scott, chancellor of the state's community colleges, said faculties there and at Cal State have "tended to make decisions more in an academic atmosphere rather than in the interest of students."

"We have waited and waited, and honestly, this has been talked about for over 20 years and it hasn't happened yet," Mr. Scott said. "It's been to the detriment of students."

But the effects of the state's budget crisis, including enrollment restrictions that have prevented thousands of students from transferring to Cal State, have helped establish political support for making the transfer process more efficient, he said.

To earn the new associate degree, students would take a combination of statewide general-education courses and courses specific to the subject they're specializing in. Students who complete the degree would be promised admission to a Cal State campus, though not a specific campus, and would automatically receive credit for courses taken during community college, protecting them from having to retake those courses at Cal State.

Mr. Scott said the proposed new standards would allow the community colleges to serve 44,000 additional students by reducing the number of students who take more courses than they need to transfer. For instance, students who graduate from Cal State after starting in community college take an average of 162 credit hours, he said, compared with the 120 generally needed to earn a bachelor's degree.

Remaining Issues

Researchers who study community-college transfer in California praised the bill as a landmark. But several said that the bill could go further, and that putting it into effect would pose challenges, given the state's budget conditions and enrollment limitations that colleges have imposed.

The bill omits any requirements for the University of California, which has a large degree of autonomy from the Legislature. Susan A. Wilbur, director of undergraduate admissions for that system, said the university would see if there were ways the common course work could be integrated into its own admission requirements.

But promising admission to students who complete a transfer associate degree would be a major challenge for the University of California, she said, and highly unlikely at selective campuses like Berkeley or Los Angeles.

Michael W. Kirst, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, said the new emphasis on an associate degree as the prime transfer method is a major shift for California. In the 2000-1 academic year, only one out of five students who transferred from a community college had received an associate degree.

"The issue is, What are they going to do about students who don't choose to take the associate degree?" Mr. Kirst said. "That, I think, is a major issue to be worked on."

Mr. Kirst, who said he generally supported the bill, said other parts of the state's transfer process would need similar attention in order to make the process easy to understand.

"The whole system is antiquated," Mr. Kirst said. The technology of the online tool students use to check transfer requirements, he said, "hasn't been updated in 15 years. The bill is going to give some momentum, but there are a lot of complexities to be worked out."


1. berniel - June 03, 2010 at 05:53 am

Hooray for Jack Scott and the California Legislature in helping community colleges take one more small step for humanity, i.e., the students. The resistance to standardizing the AA degree requirements so that any student in a community college can receive the degree is an outmoded position. This would be major help to students and colleges and improve a situation long needing attention. It is counter productive to punish community college students with an irregular pattern of requirements when this would be a major breakthrough, would undeline the value of the degree, be a great help to students and make the reporting of the eligible degree recipients more accurate. As a former community college president and Dean of Counseling who, repeadtedly heard students say that they were compelled to transfer without the degree because of one or two unique additional courses that complicate the opportunity, I can only say tdhat that this progress is a ray of hope. Lets continue to smooth the wrinkles and commonize the transfer requirement so that the AA degree becomes the currency of transfer, that the requirements are consistent and that everyone can benefit from the opportunity to receive the AA degree as a stepping stone in transfer.
Bernard Luskin, CEO and Senior Provost, Touro University Worldwide

2. sanjoaquin - June 03, 2010 at 09:46 am

This will be a welcome benefit for many students. Congratulations on this complex achievement!

3. jesor - June 07, 2010 at 12:47 pm

In Washington state, we've essentially developed a voluntary system to accomplish the same thing. The biggest balancing act we come across though is allowing institutional and faculty autonomy amongst the community colleges for specific courses while assuring a common knowledge base so that the students are ready for upper division work when they arrive at the baccalaureate institution.
While the process isn't perfect and some institutions play better than others, the advantage of it is, it's created a system where both the public and most of the private sectors have bought in, and students in general have the ability to transfer fairly smoothly.
I acknowledge that our system came about due to legislative pressure, however I have a problem with a legislative mandate on transferability. This comes dangerously close to legislating course content (it's only logical that if it's supposed to transfer to every CSU from every Community College, that course and degree content should be standardized) which is why a voluntary system works much better. Of course we also have a system in which our colleges and universities generally experience competition for enrollment, which creates pressures to be more transfer friendly whereas the UC system is underbuilt for the statewide enrollment demands, thus making it easy for the system to turn away qualified students for ideosyncratic reasons.

4. ddel2627 - June 10, 2010 at 06:03 pm

Massachusetts made similar changes to its statewide transfer policy in 2008, improving a preexisting program that ensured admission but not full transferability of community college coursework. The new policy, MassTransfer, ties specific associate degrees containing a common general education block with comparable baccalaureate majors at state colleges and University of Massachusetts campuses. Like Washington, this system is voluntary, which allows four-year public colleges latitude in determining best-case matches of associate to baccalaureate programs to ensure that students do not have to complete more than 68 credits at the senior institution. While it still has limits, it does, nevertheless, represent progress. Here is the link to the site: http://www.mass.edu/masstransfer/home.asp

And ditto to Mr. Luskin's comments above: let's keep up the good work in raising the benefits of associate degrees for aspiring transfer students. For many students, and many reasons, this is the college pathway of the future.

Daniel de la Torre, Coordinator of Transfer & Articulation, Quinsigamond Community College, MA

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