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As the daughter of an immigrant who attended Sacramento State University, I know firsthand just how transformational access to an affordable college degree can be for families and for our economy. I am proud to serve as lieutenant governor in a state that recognizes the power of our public higher education system.
Unfortunately, inefficiencies in the transfer process mean our system isn’t serving our students, state and economy as well as it could.
As the only person to serve on all three governing boards of California’s public higher education institutions — the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges — I see the barriers students face while attempting to navigate our public higher education systems. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, more than 3 out of every 4 students entering the community college system declare transfer as their goal, but only 4% of those students do so in two years. Only 19% of students transfer in four years, and 28% do so within six.
I know that we can and must do better to ensure that every Californian who wants to attend college can do so in a timely manner. This month, the California State Legislature has an opportunity to do just that by passing Assembly Bill 928 by Assemblyman Marc Berman, which charts a clear path for community college students to transfer to a four-year college.
Numerous reports identify the lack of clear transfer pathways as a key barrier to transfer. A 2017 study from the Campaign for College Opportunity reflects what I hear again and again from students: Despite major reforms in the last several years, transferring to the UC and the CSU remains complicated by factors that students have described as bureaucratic, inconsistent, and confusing. Students are forced to piece together an education plan with inconsistent requirements demanded by the different systems, schools, and departments.
In addition to adding years to a student’s time at a community college, these complexities lead students to accumulate more credits than necessary. The average transfer student accumulates over 25 more credits than what they need to transfer.
We have seen successful transfers via the Associate Degree for Transfer, or ADT, program, which provides students who meet CSU eligibility requirements with a pathway for guaranteed admission to the CSU system with junior standing — and with only 60 credits needed to transfer. Over the past decade, nearly 300,000 students have used this pathway, saving students and taxpayers time and money.
However, too many students are unable to access the Associate Degree for Transfer option because they don’t know about it, wish to attend a UC and are therefore unable to use the ADT, or an ADT pathway doesn’t exist in their desired major.
AB 928 builds upon the success of and strengthens the Associate Degree for Transfer program by consolidating multiple existing lower-division general education requirements into just one that meets transfer admission to both the CSU and UC. It also places students on an ADT pathway rather than requiring them to proactively seek it out.
The bill would create an oversight committee tasked with enhancing coordination between institutions, identifying a student-centered communications plan and expanding the number of Associate Degree for Transfer pathways available to more majors. While no single institution is to blame for the existing problems with our transfer system, a coordinated approach across the segments is critical to solving them.
By creating a more streamlined pathway to a four-year degree, AB 928 would save students time and money while also putting them on a path to earn higher wages. Additional cost savings for the state are likely as more students transfer and complete their college degrees with fewer excess units as a result of the bill.
Failure to act now would not only continue to harm students but could also keep our state from realizing our full economic potential.
A 2015 Public Policy Institute of California report found that California must produce an additional 1 million baccalaureate degrees by 2030 to meet projected workforce demands. Keeping students moving efficiently through our system of public higher education is key to ensuring California has the educated workforce to meet economic demand.
As the lieutenant governor, I know our economic success has been underpinned by the values that we share. We understand that talent can come from anywhere and that, to allow talent to rise to the top, we must keep the doors of educational opportunity open to all.
If California aims to harness the power of our world-class public higher education to meet challenges like an equitable recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and future workforce demands, it is critical that our transfer system is truly serving California students.
Eleni Kounalakis is the 50th lieutenant governor of California and the first woman elected to the position. She is a sponsor of Assembly Bill 928.
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