Credit: Alison Yin for EdSource
Laney College in Oakland

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The University of California is working to simplify its transfer process, aiming to quell confusion for community college students struggling with differing requirements and responding to a push from state leaders.

Faculty leaders at UC’s nine undergraduate campuses are expected to sign off in coming months on simplified transfer requirements for 10 of the system’s most popular majors, and similar requirements for an additional 11 majors are expected to be finalized by the end of the calendar year.

The changes will eliminate a barrier facing community college students looking to transfer into UC: Lower division coursework in specific majors isn’t universally accepted at all UC campuses. A biology student, for instance, might find that her lower-division credits count toward a biology major at one UC campus, but that she may need additional courses for the same major at a different campus.

UC’s Academic Senate has been working to align the coursework more closely, so that community college classes tied to specific majors will be accepted at all UC campuses.

“We’re trying to make it easier for students to navigate the application process to apply to a variety of UCs, so that the requirements or expectations are similar across campuses,” said Ralph Aldredge, chair of the system’s faculty-led Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, which oversees policies relating to undergraduate admissions.

UC President Janet Napolitano identified improving transfer as one of her priorities after her appointment in 2013 and created a task force to study ways to improve the process. The group’s resulting report identified streamlined major requirements as a key step to meeting UC’s goal of having one-third of its incoming students start as transfers by 2017-18.

“We want to make sure there’s a clear path to UC just like there is to CSU,” said Mary Gilly, chair of the UC Academic Senate.

At the same time, the university system is facing pressure from state leaders, including Gov. Jerry Brown, who are pushing California’s higher education segments to coordinate and simplify the transfer process. Such efforts can help students graduate faster and hold promise in increasing diversity at four-year universities. About half of the state’s community college students are black or Latino, groups that are underrepresented at UC.

Completing lower-division requirements at a community college is also cost-effective, Brown noted.

“Attending a community college for two years before transferring to UC can result in $25,000 of savings for a student in tuition and fees alone,” Brown wrote in his revised May budget proposal for the coming year.

UC’s work is also following in the steps of streamlined transfer programs developed jointly by California’s community college system and the California State University. Prompted by a 2010 state law, the systems created transfer degrees that are accepted at all 23 CSU campuses. A community college student who completes one of the transfer degrees is guaranteed acceptance as a junior into CSU, although not necessarily at their first-choice campus.

In his May budget revision, Brown tied his proposal to increase UC funding in coming years to a commitment from the university to continue to improve transfer rates. Brown specifically highlighted the system’s work to streamline “transfer pathways” in its most popular majors. The pathways should be “closely aligned” to the associate degrees for transfer in place at CSU, Brown wrote.

Transfer applications to UC from California residents have declined in recent years.

UC Transfer Action Team report

UC transfer applications from California residents have declined. (Click to enlarge)

Indeed, UC’s transfer task force report suggested that competition from the transfer degrees could be one reason fewer California residents are applying to transfer into UC. Since 2011-12, UC has seen a 9 percent drop in the number of transfer applications from California community college students, the report said.

One cause for the decline could be “that the complexity of the (UC) admissions process is simply too onerous and that prospective applicants are attracted to the admission guarantees” offered by the transfer degrees, the report said.

The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office expressed initial concern that the transfer degrees weren’t being developed quickly enough, but the popularity and scope of the degrees continues to grow.

Community colleges conferred some 12,000 of the transfer degrees in 2013-14, more than double the previous year, and more than 7,000 of those students enrolled in CSU to complete a bachelor’s degree, according to figures released in February. Community colleges now offer 1,729 different associate degrees for transfer and are on track to reach 1,976 degrees by Aug. 31, said Pam Walker, California Community Colleges vice chancellor of academic affairs.

UC’s efforts to streamline the lower-division major requirements will cut down some of the confusion in the transfer process and will help UC attract students, said UC Academic Senate Chair Mary Gilly.

“The (transfer) degrees have become kind of the way community college students think about transfer, and we don’t want to miss out on the best and the brightest,” Gilly said. “We want to make sure there’s a clear path to UC just like there is to CSU.”

The 21 major pathways UC is developing represent the most popular majors pursued by transfer students and cover about 85 percent of the transfer applications, said Gilly, a UC Irvine management professor.

The first 10 majors now pending faculty approval are in biochemistry, biology, cell biology, molecular biology, chemistry, physics, math, anthropology, economics and sociology. Faculty groups will convene again in October to begin the process for developing an additional 11 pathways in business administration, electrical engineering, history, political science, communications, English and English literature, mechanical engineering, psychology, computer science, film and philosophy.

Once completed, UC will inform students of the changes through a dedicated website, Gilly said, as well as traditional counseling channels.

The clearer requirements are also expected to ensure that transfer students are better prepared to enter UC, with an expectation they will complete a bachelor’s degree within two years, said Aldredge, a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor at UC Davis.

“We’re saying these are the recommended courses (students) should take that would make them attractive to multiple UCs,” Aldredge said. “… Sometimes those (course) expectations might be higher than they might have been in the past.”

UC, however, is not offering an admission guarantee like that offered by CSU. But transfer applicants are evaluated for admission using UC’s comprehensive review process, which evaluates students on a range of criteria including grades, courses taken, life experiences and more.

Several UC regents, including Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley, encouraged officials to evaluate whether an admission guarantee could be offered.

“If we look at the experience for CSU and the associate degree for transfer, it’s created tremendous opportunities in families and in communities where college-going was not a (dinner-table) conversation,” Ortiz Oakley said during the regents’ May 21 meeting in San Francisco. “I think we can stretch this to create a guarantee.”

Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, which was a key sponsor of Senate Bill 1440, the bill that created the transfer degrees, said UC’s efforts are a step toward improving transfer rates and diversity in the system. The campaign on Thursday released a new report highlighting the dismal college attainment rates among African-Americans, noting that at least two-thirds of black applicants were denied admission to six of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses.

“The single biggest way (UC) would have improved diversity was to implement the associate degree for transfer,” Siqueiros said. “Having the governor also affirm that and move UC in that direction is incredibly positive in our view. It really provides students and families with a greater sense of understanding of what it takes to transfer.”

“You should not have to have a master’s degree to figure out how to transfer.”

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