A record 20,646 students last year earned community college transfer degrees that were created to streamline their path to the California State University system, according to a report released Tuesday. But few of these students likely went on to enroll at CSU campuses.
The number of community college students earning Associate Degrees for Transfer in 2014-15 almost doubled compared to the previous year, according to the report from the Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on higher education issues.
But despite the growing number of students earning these degrees, the program, now in its fourth year, has had little success in boosting the overall number of community college students who transfer annually to four-year schools. Before last year, just 37 percent of students earning Associate Degrees for Transfer went on to a CSU campus, according to the report.
The report found that a lack of collaboration between community colleges and CSUs, the inability of students to find the degree program at the campus they hope to transfer to, and failure of the state to promote the program to encourage more students to participate, have contributed to the low transfer rates.
The Associate Degree for Transfer program was established in 2010 under Senate Bill 1440. It 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 CSU as juniors with the assurance that they will only need another 60 units to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Associate Degrees for Transfer made up 18 percent of all associate degrees awarded by state community colleges in 2014-15, up from 5 percent in 2012-13. But the number of community college students transferring annually has remained relatively flat at 4 percent.
“While major progress has occurred, it is also clear that serious challenges remain to ensuring the Associate Degree for Transfer pathway becomes the preferred pathway by which students transfer so that California produces the college graduates our state economy needs,” said the report.
Many CSU campuses have been slow to approve some of the community college degrees that are similar to, but not precisely matched with CSU majors, meaning that some transfer candidates don’t always meet the universities’ course requirements to gain admission. Other community college majors, such as general business, are so broad that some CSU campuses won’t guarantee that transfer students can complete a specialized bachelor’s degree in business administration with just another 60 credits. San Marcos, San Luis Obispo, San Bernardino and Bakersfield each enrolled fewer than 50 transfer degree students.
Among community colleges, many have been slow in creating the courses and framework needed to support these transfer degrees, according to the report.
Recommendations for strengthening the program include increasing coordination between CSU and community colleges to better align goals, providing more state funding and support to build stronger curriculum and training at campuses, and improving communication and outreach to students to encourage more of them to participate in the transfer degree program.
“If we are going to move the needle on producing more bachelor’s degrees to meet state economic demand, then we still have to go the distance and ensure this is a primary way by which a majority of community college students transfer to the CSU,” said Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity.