California community colleges have inked a first-of-its kind agreement with nine of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities, guaranteeing that students who transfer to the out-of-state campuses will be admitted as juniors on a seamless path to a degree.
College leaders hailed the agreement as “historic” and “a dream come true,” saying it will offer additional opportunities for students to pursue advanced degrees at a larger number of campuses.
The agreement, signed Tuesday, is believed to be the first between a community college system and multiple historically black colleges, although those campuses have transfer plans with individual community colleges, often in their own states.
“This is one of those moments in time when you look back and say I was part of history,” said Peter Millet, president of Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala., one of the campuses included in the transfer agreement.
The agreement will allow community college students who complete a transfer-level associate degree with at least a 2.5 grade point average to transfer directly into one of the participating campuses with junior status. The transfer agreement is similar to those the community college system already has with University of California and California State University campuses.
The plan will avoid transfer issues students may have experienced in the past, when lower-division general education courses often did not transfer for credit to four-year universities. Students may have been discouraged from attending campuses where they had to re-take courses, Millet said, and the inconvenience extended the length of time it took students to graduate.
“That was a disincentive for people to go on and get a four-year degree,” Millet said. “This just opens the door to countless numbers of students.”
The plan also dovetails with goals of both the community college system and historically black universities. California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris has pledged to greatly increase the number of students who transfer into four-year universities over the next decade. In addition, some historically black colleges and universities are struggling with enrollment and revenue declines.
President Barack Obama has made historically black colleges and universities a focus of his efforts to increase the number of Americans earning college degrees. The president has created the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities to highlight the role the campuses play in increasing degree obtainment among African-Americans. About 20 percent of black adults between 25 and 29 held bachelor’s degrees in 2013, federal data show, compared with 40 percent of whites.
“This just opens the door to countless numbers of students,” said Peter Millet, president of Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
California has the largest community college system in the nation, with more than 2 million students. The nine universities in the transfer agreement have a combined enrollment of about 12,000 students.
The participating colleges are Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C.; Dillard University in New Orleans; Fisk University in Nashville; Lincoln University of Missouri in Jefferson City, Mo.; Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark.; Stillman College; Talladega College in Talladega, Ala.; Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala.; and Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.
About 105 historically black colleges and universities across the nation enroll some 228,000 students. While the colleges are open to all students, their enrollment is predominantly African-American. The campuses are the leading institutions in awarding bachelor’s degrees to blacks in the life sciences, physical sciences, math and engineering, according to information from the U.S. Department of Education.
About 16 percent of the bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans in 2010-11 were awarded by historically black colleges and universities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“This is a huge step forward for having a seamless transfer process,” said Omar Paz Jr., a Santa Rosa Junior College student who chairs the statewide Student Senate for California Community Colleges. He lauded the opportunity the agreement will provide students of color, but said other students also would be interested in the opportunity.
About 7 percent of California community college students are African-American, with about 38 percent percent obtaining associate degrees or certificates or transferring to four-year universities after six years, according to information from California Community Colleges. The rate is much higher, 65 percent, for African-American students who do not need remedial coursework when they enter the system.
In 2011, 500 California community college students transferred to an historically black college or university, according to the most recent data available.
The community colleges initially approached five campuses about the transfer agreement, but that number grew as more campuses expressed interest. California students will also be eligible for priority consideration for housing, transfer scholarships and pre-admission advising under the agreement, as well as financial aid for qualifying students.
Stillman College recently reduced tuition from $22,500 to $17,500, Millet said, and will offer an additional $4,000 scholarship to California community college students who take advantage of the transfer agreement.
Other private campuses have expressed interest in similar transfer agreements, so transfer options for students may grow, said community college system spokeswoman Paige Marlatt Dorr.
“We want to make as many pathways as possible available for our students,” she said.