Apollonia Morrill, UC Newsroom
“There are resources everywhere.” “It is hard, but it is worth it.” “Sit in the front of your classes.” “Keep asking questions.” “You will get where you are meant to be.”
—UC Davis Transfer Opportunity Program student outreach ambassadors
On a sunny Friday in September, a few dozen community college students from the far reaches of Northern California arrived at UC Davis by the car and vanful, wheeled suitcases in tow. Many had driven hours from remote parts of the state, and most had never set foot on a UC campus. But all were curious enough to take a chance on Journey to UC, a three-day, all-expenses-paid residential program jointly hosted by UC Davis and UC Berkeley covering the ins and outs of the transfer process.
While the University of California enrolls more transfer students than any other university of its caliber, UC is still striving to increase its transfer numbers and support more community college students as they work toward a bachelor’s degree. Across California, there are more than five dozen community colleges that send very few students to UC. With funding support from the state, UC leaders are focused on changing that. Immersive experiences like Journey to UC are one of the many ways they’re doing it.
“We want these students to know that they belong at a UC campus, and we have the resources to help them succeed,” remarked Yvette Gullatt, the university’s vice president and vice provost for Graduate, Undergraduate and Equity Affairs. “More than a quarter of our undergrads transfer from a California Community College, and a majority of those students have all their tuition covered by grants and scholarships.”
As the weekend unfolded, the Journey to UC participants toured both campuses, got detailed application advice, delved into financial aid and learned about support for transfer students. They took a yoga class, ate in the dining hall, went to a pep rally and even attended a football game complete with a tailgate barbecue. Amid all that input, some of the most valuable may have been hearing directly from students who had been through the transfer process and were thriving on the other side.
“I promise you,” said UC Davis student ambassador Vinh Ton, a first-generation transfer from De Anza College who will finish his statistics degree this year, “there is so much in place here to help you succeed. You don’t have to take on the burden alone.”
Ton and four other student ambassadors from the UC Davis Transfer Opportunity Program accompanied the group for the entire weekend, with three UC Berkeley transfer students joining for the day at Cal. The ambassadors all transferred to UC last year and now earn work-study hours helping others do the same. They acknowledged that transferring takes hard work and the perseverance to overcome self-doubt and other pitfalls, but their overwhelming message was one of reassurance, positivity and encouragement.
“Before, whenever I heard about all the support programs and tools that are available to students, I felt like it was just a gesture, or something for show,” said Logan Kingsland, a student at Feather River College. “Now I believe it’s real. I would say to other students: If you’re struggling, there are lots of people who genuinely want to help you.”
“I think the biggest gap for many transfer students is just perception — the idea that they don’t belong here,” explained Robert Penman, the executive director of undergraduate admissions at UC Davis. Penman developed the Journey to UC program together with Miya Hayes, the associate director of campus partnerships and engagement for UC Berkeley admissions. “For students from rural, underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds, sometimes just spending more time on campus beyond the standard tour can be immensely helpful. We’re seeing that, for the Journey to UC students, their entire mindset changed over the span of a couple of days.”
Investing in transfer outreach
Though residential programs for potential UC transfers aren’t new, Journey to UC’s multicampus approach and focused outreach are a departure. Developed through an innovation grant, the program is part of a push to increase numbers of California Community College students who come to UC from schools that typically see low numbers of transfer students.
These 69 “low-sending” schools — over half of the state’s 116 community colleges — tend to be in lower-income, often rural areas such as the Inland Empire and Central Valley. Ten of them are in mountainous far Northern California, where geography alone can be a major obstacle to higher education. Take College of the Redwoods, for instance. Its Crescent City campus is 367 miles from the nearest UC campus, or a drive of almost 7 hours. When you can’t visit a campus, it’s a lot harder to see yourself there.
For students at these schools, UC can seem distant and unattainable. It’s not just a matter of getting in. Moving there and finding a way to pay for it all can be daunting, especially if jobs in the local economy are less likely to require a 4-year degree. The upshot is that a very small number of students from the state’s northern region enroll at UC. For example, Lassen and Feather River colleges, two of the schools attending the program, only sent two transfer students apiece to UCs in the fall of 2022.
State lawmakers have partnered with UC to tackle the problem. In the largest increase in 15 years, the California Budget Act of 2022–23 almost doubled funding for UC’s Student Academic Preparation and Educational Partnerships (SAPEP), adding $22.5 million in new ongoing funds to the previous year’s ongoing funds of $24.6 million, for a total of $47.1 million. The monies reflect the commitment of state lawmakers to increasing affordability, accessibility, quality and equity in higher education, all of which are critical for driving upward mobility across California. UC is using the funds to expand its presence in high-need community colleges and high schools across the state and help more students enroll and complete their degrees at the university.
“We want students from every corner of the state to be able to benefit from a UC education, and we’re grateful to be working in partnership with the state to expand those opportunities,” said Gullatt. “Our state lawmakers recognize how critical it is to invest in work that closes equity gaps and lifts up Californians.”
In addition to enhancing existing programs, the SAPEP funds have kick-started seven pilot projects across the UC system. The goal is to identify effective and scalable programs to help underrepresented students throughout the UC pipeline, from elementary school through college. Journey to UC is just one of those efforts, developed jointly by UC Berkeley and UC Davis under an umbrella program called the NorthState Collaborative.
Hayes and Penman’s collaboration grew from their shared goal to create engaging and meaningful experiences for students who don’t often get a chance to visit a campus, let alone two. “Transfer students from underrepresented regions like far Northern California are a crucial part of the University of California,” stressed Hayes. “Whether it’s at Berkeley, Davis or another UC, our entire community benefits from their presence on our campuses. We need their perspectives as we develop collective knowledge about what’s going on in our world and explore solutions to big problems.”
Sponging it up
Back on campus, the rapt audience of CCC students is taking it all in: application tips, financial aid details, housing options, research opportunities. A first-generation student ambassador who transferred to UC from American River College, which is also on the list of low-sending schools, Nancy Huynh reflected on the participants: “They are just like we were, but they’re in a better spot. They’re two steps ahead just from doing this program.”
An aspiring veterinarian, second-year Feather River College student Scarlet Taskey attended Journey to UC knowing she would apply. “I came to sponge up as much information as I could on how to be successful in my transfer process. I got a lot of information I was looking for, and a lot more that I wouldn’t even have known to ask about.” One critical takeaway: she could apply to her top choice, UC Davis, through the Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) program, securing her place at UC.
For her classmate Kingsland, a reentry student who recently returned to higher ed after working in the timber industry, the campus tours were decisive. “Up to this weekend, it had been just me on my computer planning things out. Doing this program made it all seem real for the first time. Seeing how huge the campuses are and all the different people there, everything started adding up. It was so exciting to realize that this is really happening. I’m going back to school. I’m going to do this thing.”
The immersive weekend is just the first touchpoint these students will have with UC. Students will be invited to virtual workshops and individual one-on-one advising over the coming months and years to help them throughout the transfer process. “I think it opened some eyes and planted the seeds of possibility,” reflected Feather River college counselor Michelle Petroelje, who came along for the weekend. “Hearing about all the tremendous financial aid that’s available made it seem possible. Our group left with a feeling that UC is accessible for all of us.”