Do you count on EdSource’s education coverage? If so, please make your donation today to keep us going without a paywall or ads.

Student Marjorie Blen compared the overwhelming process of transferring from City College of San Francisco to San Francisco State University to trying to solve a puzzle.

Though she was applying for the same major — sociology — the requirements were different for each campus in the California State University and University of California systems. Blen described a “very, very discouraging” process of cross-referencing each school, each class and even each credit to make sure she was fulfilling all the requirements correctly.

“The bureaucracy makes us feel little,” she said.

Blen shared the journey of transferring to San Francisco State during a roundtable discussion hosted by EdSource on Wednesday called “Transferring into CSU and UC: Roadblocks and Solutions.” The panel, which included representatives from California’s higher education systems, discussed the structural barriers that students like her face. Panelists also outlined plans to address these issues, including AB 928, a recent law aimed at streamlining general education requirements in California’s colleges and universities.

Most students don’t transfer: A report released from the Campaign for College Opportunity in July stated that only 4 in 10 students enrolled in California community colleges in 2012-13 transferred within six years. But for those who do, the report titled “Chutes or Ladders” describes how “one bad roll of the dice can set them back several turns.”

Community colleges are described as a place where students can save money, finish their first two years of college and then transfer to a CSU or UC campus, said Audrey Dow, senior vice president at Campaign for College Opportunity. High school students are given certain expectations about transferring from community colleges “as if it’s some very easy, magical, perfectly laid-out process, and it simply is not that.”

That’s bad news for the more than 2 million community college students in California, Dow said.

The outlook is particularly dire for the 70% of Black and Latino students who begin their higher education in community colleges.

“Their pathway to the baccalaureate degree is the transfer,” Dow said.

Yet, only 9% of Black students and 10% of Latino students transfer within four years.

The transfer process bears the unfortunate imprint of what Marty J. Alvarado, executive vice chancellor of educational services for California Community Colleges, calls the “right to fail” era in higher education. She said it is as if students need to prove that they are worthy of being there and of transferring. “We set up the structures to really weed people out,” she said. “The students bear the burden for navigating the maze that we have created and the structures across all of our systems,” she said.

Alvarado said that it’s time to start moving into the era of “student success” when it comes to transfers and pushing the burden back onto systems rather than students.

California’s four-year college systems said they are working on developing plans to streamline the transfer process.

The University of California has developed transfer pathways for the 20 most sought-after majors within the system, according to Han Mi Yoon-Wu, executive director of undergraduate admissions for the University of California Office of the President.

“The transfer pathways has been our effort to streamline transfer for students unsure of which campus they want to pursue,” Yoon-Wu said.

Dale Leaman, executive director of the office of undergraduate admissions for UC Irvine, noted that UC Transfer Admission Guarantee enables students with a certain GPA who meet certain requirements to have admission guaranteed.

One of the biggest tools to streamline the process is the creation of associate degree for transfer — known as ADT. It was created to guarantee admission into the UC and CSU systems, similar to the way A-G requirement streamlines the entry from high school to college.

The Campaign for College Opportunity noted that those who are on the pathway for an ADT degree do graduate with fewer credits, wasting less time.

April Grommo, CSU’s assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management services, acknowledges that California’s four-year colleges have a lot of work to do in educating students on transfer requirements. Many students still don’t know what an ADT is. She said the CSU system has begun to do more outreach to high school counselors.

The Campaign for College Opportunity found that only 37% of Black students with associate degrees earn the ADT degree, compared with 54% of Latino students.

Campaign for College Opportunity sponsored AB 928, which Dow said will begin to tackle some of these challenges. The law aims to put every community college student on a pathway for an ADT that aligns with their major unless they opt out.

“The idea is that on day one they are on a path to a baccalaureate degree,” Dow said.

The law also requires the UC and CSU systems to create a streamlined general education program for lower-division courses. This would standardize lower division classes in California for students who graduate with an ADT. It would fulfill the expectation that students who graduate from a community college will be able to transfer to a CSU or UC when they have finished their general education requirements.

Dow said that it may take effort and advocacy from families, students and the workforce, but it’s about what’s best for California.

Alvarado said addressing the issues with transfers is not about pointing fingers or budget or resources.

“Really we have to start looking at what sort of solutions can we create, like ADT, in the interim while we also have real conversations about dismantling structures that create these problems that limit our transfer outcomes,” Alvarado said.

Blen, now serves as lead project coordinator at Students Making a Change, a key organization in her transfer journey that provided her services and support when the transfer office at her community college was too backlogged. She recommended that as these university systems make changes, they get recommendations from transfer students — or they risk not seeing the necessary impact.

“Student voices should be heard,” she said. “I understand that it might be complicated, and sometimes administrators and teachers have a paternalistic attitude that we don’t know.” But there are a lot of transfer students in CSU and UC whose voices can be part of the process, she said.

Do you count on EdSource’s reporting daily? Make your donation today to our year end fundraising campaign by Dec. 31st to keep us going without a paywall or ads.

Comments (6)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Melanie Archer 9 months ago9 months ago

    I am currently a California community college student. Like many of my classmates, I'm an adult with an undergraduate degree who's in school again to earn a second undergraduate degree in an entirely different field. I don't see much of our experience reflected in this discussion, so I'll add some remarks on that. Community colleges offer a flexible and lower-cost option to working adults, so you'll encounter a lot of us on these campuses. However, most … Read More

    I am currently a California community college student. Like many of my classmates, I’m an adult with an undergraduate degree who’s in school again to earn a second undergraduate degree in an entirely different field. I don’t see much of our experience reflected in this discussion, so I’ll add some remarks on that.

    Community colleges offer a flexible and lower-cost option to working adults, so you’ll encounter a lot of us on these campuses. However, most of the CSUs and nearly all the UCs are not interested in students seeking additional undergraduate degrees. I didn’t know, until I tried, how difficult it will be for me to transfer for my upper division classes. Despite my 3.2 GPA in a demanding STEM major, I’m allowed to apply to only a handful of California’s public universities. If you ever wondered how the infamous “diploma mill” for-profit colleges continue to attract students, well, for some of us, it’s out of desperation.

    I see an easy way to solve this: allow the state’s community colleges to issue (more) four-year bachelor’s degrees. There’s already precedent for this with a few areas of study (https://transfer.santarosa.edu/ca-community-colleges-offering-bachelors-degrees). I suggest enlarging this list with any major that is considered “impacted” in the CSU or UC system. Let those of us satisfied with our community colleges (I am) stay put, and not add to the enrollment pressure at another college.

  2. Ian Colmer 9 months ago9 months ago

    My mind keeps coming back to the fundamental inequity in how we fund higher ed in California. We spend the most money on UC students, who generally come from the most privileged backgrounds, and the least on community college students, which, as this article notes, is where 70% of Black and Latino students begin their higher ed journeys. I teach at a community college, have done some work at a CSU, and have taken classes … Read More

    My mind keeps coming back to the fundamental inequity in how we fund higher ed in California. We spend the most money on UC students, who generally come from the most privileged backgrounds, and the least on community college students, which, as this article notes, is where 70% of Black and Latino students begin their higher ed journeys.

    I teach at a community college, have done some work at a CSU, and have taken classes at a UC. The difference in spending is stark!

    Hearing from Marjorie was great–and a comment she made about inadequate counseling that she received while a community college student stands out to me. It seems very obvious to me that equitably funding community college students’ educations would lead to better counseling and better transfer outcomes.

    I’m not sure why some of these panelists made comments like “addressing the issues with transfers is not about pointing fingers or budget or resources.” Or that CC students don’t need more tutors. Don’t they deserve more (or at least equal) support compared to UC and CSU students–not less?

    I really appreciated this panel and hope EdSource will continue to push leaders about equitably funding higher ed in California.

  3. L. Enriquez 9 months ago9 months ago

    Community colleges already have a TAG and TAP program. This guarantees community college students a transfer opportunity into the CSU and UC schools. I have two daughters who transferred to SDSU. It took my oldest 3 years to transfer and learn about all the obstacles involved in the process. She's becoming a college advisor because of this. She said CC counselor's recommend you "take your time" to transfer. This is not ok if you are … Read More

    Community colleges already have a TAG and TAP program. This guarantees community college students a transfer opportunity into the CSU and UC schools.

    I have two daughters who transferred to SDSU. It took my oldest 3 years to transfer and learn about all the obstacles involved in the process. She’s becoming a college advisor because of this. She said CC counselor’s recommend you “take your time” to transfer. This is not ok if you are already determined to move on and out. My second daughter transferred in 2 years. She received lots of help from her older sister who guided her with her course scheduling.

    More than anything it is about having someone to help guide your journey …o r perseverance for oneself when one is doing the research. Having a “plan” of study with a “decision tree” if it is not followed, like they do in the university, helps a lot but also knowing what to do if a class is failed and when to take summer and winter courses too. I would also recommend knowing about the appeals process. My daughter was redirected to attend another CSU that was not of her choice. She appealed using the TAG stipulations and got accepted to her university of choice. There are definitely many obstacles but systematic supports and one’s own perseverance are definitely needed too.

  4. Caroline Grannan 9 months ago9 months ago

    I attended College of Marin and then moved on to Sonoma State and graduated in 1977. There was no bureaucracy involved at all, as far as I recall. There was some reason that I can’t recall that if I wanted to avoid more onerous science (sorry, as an English major I did consider it onerous) it made more sense to take the science at COM. Otherwise it was just complete the required classes for your … Read More

    I attended College of Marin and then moved on to Sonoma State and graduated in 1977. There was no bureaucracy involved at all, as far as I recall. There was some reason that I can’t recall that if I wanted to avoid more onerous science (sorry, as an English major I did consider it onerous) it made more sense to take the science at COM. Otherwise it was just complete the required classes for your BA at whichever college and you’re good. First, why would they have made it harder at all? And second, the myth is that all academic standards have plummeted, while reality doesn’t bear that out.

  5. el 9 months ago9 months ago

    My student has credits from our local community college and is attending a CSU (where they started as a first time freshman), so I have some familiarity with the course offerings at each. These schools are geographically close and even share the occasional faculty member, so they have a relatively tight relationship. If you compare the schools at https://collegescorecard.ed.gov, it's hard pressed to say that the community college is the better value for a first time … Read More

    My student has credits from our local community college and is attending a CSU (where they started as a first time freshman), so I have some familiarity with the course offerings at each. These schools are geographically close and even share the occasional faculty member, so they have a relatively tight relationship.

    If you compare the schools at https://collegescorecard.ed.gov, it’s hard pressed to say that the community college is the better value for a first time freshman who has completed A-G. The cost is less, if you live at your parents’ home. If you do not, the cost is probably about the same. And your parents’ home probably doesn’t have study partners and may not be well set up for studying. The CSU has nearly triple the graduation rate and close to double the median earnings. Median total debt is less than double at the CSU even though it’s double the number of years of study.

    What I see, from my own student and the other students that I’ve followed, is that
    – The CSU has a lower cost for books, by a lot, which are harder to finance than tuition
    – The CSU has a schedule that is more concentrated and work friendly
    – There are more student-friendly jobs around the CSU campus
    – The CSU general setup is more supportive of students and academic progress, especially for students who live on campus

    That’s just the basics of the academic environment. In addition, the CSU begins advanced classwork in the sophomore year. The community college does not have the same breadth of classes as the CSU, and the transfer pathway, while technically possible, relies on a very aggressive and challenging schedule of difficult major classes in the junior and senior years. This can be difficult to schedule logistically and is academically fierce even for the most capable students. The CSU catalogs don’t have a sample of a post-transfer schedule in the majors, either. It also means that if they do actually transfer, a student hits several headwinds at once:
    – Not being really introduced to the major until it is very late to backtrack
    – Not a clear department breakout of how to juggle/choose/schedul the remaining classes in a two year program
    – The hardest classes they’ve ever faced, and there are 5 of them
    – At a new school and a new environment

    So let’s recap. We send our most vulnerable students – ones who are first generation college students and financially fragile – though this logistically most challenging pathway.

    I also note that the community college is set up to assume that its students are more remedial. For example, the two semester freshman introductory biology sequence at CSU requires 3 semesters to complete at the CC, regardless of your preparation, due to a more basic biology course as a prerequisite at the CC. This is yet another way that STEM students in particular are at a disadvantage when transferring. Creating more access to some of these more challenging courses – maybe we can use more of a dual-enrollment transition between CSU and CC in some instances? – might help the transition for students without their own outside mentors to shepherd them through.

    The community colleges are an amazing resource and so important to the success of our state and our students. Having locations where students can attempt college closer to home or more flexibly is incredibly valuable. Creating a secondary entry pathway for students who needed more time to mature before college is important too. And, the continuing education they give to all adults, not just those who are degree-seeking, is so valuable to their communities. I’d love to see them continue the aspects that are unique to them while also building tighter partnerships with the CSU and UC systems.

    I hope this report is carefully studied and that positive new coordination is the result.

  6. Sheila Lau 9 months ago9 months ago

    There’s a typo in this article, the ADTs were designed to offer guaranteed admission to the CSU system only; not both CSU and UC.
    “ One of the biggest tools to streamline the process is the creation of associate degree for transfer — known as ADT. It was created to guarantee admission into the UC and CSU systems, similar to the way A-G requirement ”