University of California officials today (May 14) outlined a comprehensive strategy to make it easier for students to transfer to UC from the state’s community colleges.

UC President Janet Napolitano, speaking to the Board of Regents at a meeting in Sacramento, said streamlining the transfer process was a top priority for her administration.

“Transfer students are an important part of UC’s strength, as well as an engine of social mobility for our state,” she said. “Put simply, if we are serving transfers well, then we are serving the state well."

Napolitano convened a transfer action team last fall to identify ways the transfer process could be strengthened to better serve California students.

That team, led by Provost Aimée Dorr and co-chaired by Judy Sakaki, UC vice president of student affairs, and George Johnson, chair of UC’s Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, outlined for the board steps that UC immediately can take to simplify the transfer process and attract students from a wider array of community colleges in the state.

Among the steps are simplifying the information UC gives students about how to transfer, increasing outreach at community colleges around the state and offering more support to transfers once they arrive at a UC campus.

The task force also called for working closely with California’s other public systems of higher education — California Community Colleges and California State University — to urge state lawmakers to provide the resources necessary for increasing all three systems  capacity to accommodate more students.

Vital pathway to UC

Almost one in three UC undergraduates — almost 15,000 students a year — begins his or her higher education at a community college. The transfer pathway is a crucial means by which students, particularly those from low-income households and those who will be the first in their family to attend college, gain access to a UC education, officials said.

“Transfer quite literally opens doors and changes lives,” said Sakaki.

One such student is Frankie Guzman, a student from a poor, crime-plagued community who served time in the juvenile justice system before determining to get his life back on track. He enrolled in Oxnard Community College and was admitted to UC Berkeley as a transfer. “This time I left my community not in handcuffs, but in search of a better life,” he said. 

Guzman earned his degree and went on to earn his law degree at UCLA. He now works with youth in the juvenile justice system.

“I’m living proof of what partnerships like this can produce, in providing students with opportunities to succeed regardless of where they’ve come from,” he said.

A call to streamline course requirements

UC’s commitment to transfer students is unrivaled among selective research institutions nationally, said Provost Dorr. These students do well at UC, boasting graduation rates that are among the highest in the nation for transfer students.

But while transfer enables many bright and promising students to attain a UC education, many others are discouraged from applying by a process that is complex and hard to navigate, officials said.

The transfer action team report recommended that simpler, clear-cut academic pathways be created to give students information about which courses are eligible for transfer, and to make this information consistent across the system.

“Transfer is complicated, and at UC it is even more so because of the differing requirements among campuses for transfer into similar majors,” Johnson said.

Simplifying transfer requirements would not mean lowering UC’s academic standards, he said.

“We can’t streamline the curriculum at the expense of not having students prepared for academic coursework.”

Regents called upon the university to accelerate faculty-led efforts already underway, such as those to align UC transfer requirements with the Associate Degree for Transfer. Issued by California Community Colleges, these degrees lay out which courses students need to take to make them eligible for transfer to a four-year program at California State University.

Building ties with under-represented community colleges

Discussion also centered on efforts to increase the diversity of the transfer population and draw students from a wider array of community colleges.

The majority of transfers come to UC from a small subset of the state’s community colleges, which hinders geographic, ethnic and racial diversity among transfer applicants.

While UC admitted and enrolled at least one student from each of the state’s 112 community colleges as of fall 2012, half of all UC transfers come from fewer than 20 percent of the state’s community colleges.

The team called for establishing a “California Community College to UC Pipeline Initiative” to increase transfers from under-represented schools by building partnerships with them and offering increased advising and academic resources.

It also called for increasing UC’s presence at all California community colleges. As part of that effort, Napolitano will visit community colleges across the state to inspire and educate students about the transfer path.

Balancing demand for freshman admissions

A major issue is how UC will balance the interests of transfer students with those of students who seek to enter the university as freshmen.

“We are not recommending displacing freshmen, nor are we recommending increasing transfer admissions without increased funding from the state,” Sakaki said. “Growing overall enrollment requires more state funding.”

Others, however, called for making more specific commitments to increasing transfer enrollment.

“At the end of the day, if we’re not taking more transfer students, I would argue, we’re collectively falling short,” said Erik Skinner, vice chancellor of California Community Colleges.

“Are we increasing the number of students or just the pool of applicants?” asked Regent Sherry Lansing. “This will require a lot of review.”

Regents asked the transfer action team to return for further discussion of these issues.