California Transfers Are Off the Chart. How?

By Emily Rogan

A law helps more holders of associate degrees get into four-year institutions.

In 2010, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, which required the California Community Colleges (CCC) and California State University (CSU) systems to work together to smooth out the transfer process and give students with associate degrees priority at California state institutions. Since academic year 2011­–12, a record number of students with associate degrees have successfully transferred from two-year colleges to four-year institutions.

One example: Omar Rodriguez, 23, a communications student at Irvine Valley College. After he graduates with an associate degree this spring, he will transfer to a four-year school. And if he chooses one of the CSU schools, he is guaranteed a spot and will enter as a junior, without having to repeat courses.

 A map to transfer success

“I always wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree. But the problem was I didn’t know any of the programs or what I needed to do to transfer,” Rodriguez says. “At first, I was taking random classes.” But after learning about the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) program, Rodriguez and a counselor mapped out exactly which courses with transferrable credits he needed to earn him both an associate degree and a spot at one of the CSU campuses that offer a comparable major.

“The best thing about the program is that you earn an associate degree before moving on to the next level,” Rodriguez says. “If not, you would be transferring without any degree and not having any specialties to back up all the years you’ve been in community college.”

Coming together for students

That very rationale was the impetus behind the law and subsequent collaboration between CCC and CSU. In just under three years, faculty from both systems worked to create nearly 2,000 new degrees within the 113 community colleges, according to California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris.

In the past, explains Harris, students were too often taking the wrong courses, with more credits than necessary, or never completing an associate degree before transferring. Upon arrival at a four-year institution, transfer students had to take even more credits to make up for those that didn’t transfer. It was both costly and frustrating. And it’s a common problem at community colleges nationwide.

A smooth transfer

Today, “a student entering any one of 113 community colleges knows what’s required to make a seamless transfer to CSU,” Harris says. “Now it’s very clear for students and family members. Very clear.”

Also, because students must complete the associate degree first, “it does document the achievement of students in a public way,” Harris says. “They have a college degree that no one can take away.”

The program’s success is undeniable. In 2011–12, 722 students earned an Associate Degree for Transfer. In the 2014–15 academic year, that number increased to more than 20,000 students, according to the communications office of CCC. Some of the most popular majors include business administration, psychology, communication studies, mathematics and English.

Breaking down silos

Harris commends the faculty of both systems for their efforts and commitment to making this initiative work. “They knew it was in the best interest of the students and the taxpayers. It cut down duplication of courses and opened seats for more students.”

In the beginning, he says, the task was daunting. “The faculty at the colleges and at CSU had to break down barriers and make sure that it all worked across both institutions,” says Harris. “There were faculty-to-faculty conversations to make the movement as seamless as possible for students. It required a leap of faith, and this was a big leap.”

Paving the way for similar programs

In the summer of 2015, a comparable program was launched with the University of California system. And an agreement made last spring with nine historically black colleges and universities now guarantees transfer for California community college students who meet academic criteria.

“Without question, people are excited about what they’re seeing. It’s a dramatic uptick and potential for the future,” Harris says.

Emily Rogan

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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