A nascent transfer degree program that streamlines the path from California community colleges to California State University is gaining ground, but still only accounts for 3 percent of community college degrees awarded last year, according to a new report from Sacramento State University researchers that was released by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Nearly 5,400 students at the state’s 112 community colleges earned an associate degree of transfer in 2012-13, the second year the degrees were offered. That number is up from 800 degrees the first year. But it’s barely a ripple in reaching the main goal of the transfer degree program, which is to encourage more students to transfer to a four-year college and earn a bachelor’s degree.
“The goal should be to increase the number of students who can benefit from this pathway, and then see whether additional approaches can be devised to better serve those who may not be able to take advantage of it,” said Nancy Shulock, executive director of the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Sacramento State and co-author of the report.
The transfer degrees were established under Assembly Bill 1440 in 2010, and given more teeth last year through Senate Bill 440. They required the community college system and CSU to agree on general education requirements and courses in about two dozen majors. Students who earn those transfer degrees are guaranteed acceptance into Cal State as juniors with the assurance that they will only need another 60 units to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Prior to the legislation, the transfer process was confusing and often varied by college. In a 2010 study, Divided We Fail, the Institute found that six years after enrolling, 70 percent of “degree-seeking” community college students had not transferred to a four-year college or university, or completed a community college certificate or degree.
Shulock and co-author Colleen Moore suggest several reasons why more students aren’t enrolling in one of the transfer degree programs; among them is there hasn’t been enough publicity. They conducted a survey of elected student government leaders on community college campuses and the statewide student senate and found that more than a third didn’t know about the new degrees. The authors recommend the Legislature approve funding to publicize the degrees.
Another hurdle is that a number of CSU campuses have been slow to approve some of the community college degrees that are similar to, but not precisely matched with Cal State majors. Four CSU campuses don’t accept the transfer degrees in computer science and geology. Other community college majors, such as general business, are so broad that some Cal State campuses won’t guarantee that transfer students can complete a specialized bachelor’s degree in business administration with just another 60 credits.
“The new degrees were created with the laudable goal of establishing consistent transfer requirements throughout the state to increase transfer rates and better serve students,” Moore said. “Progress on this goal has been steady and remains promising, but implementation faces multiple challenges.”
Shulock and Moore call for better coordination between the community college and CSU chancellors’ offices and recommend expanding the transfer degrees to include the University of California and some private colleges.