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Increasing Transfer Students at UC

Jacob Jackson June 15, 2015

The University of California has agreed to bring in more transfer students as part of its budget agreement with the governor. Specifically, UC has committed to enrolling one new transfer student for every two new freshman. This means that one third (33%) of entering students will be transfers system-wide and at each campus (except Merced) by 2017. It also means that unless there is funding to increase enrollment, there may be fewer places for entering freshman.

Three campuses—Davis, Los Angeles, and San Diego—met the transfer enrollment goal in the fall of 2014. The other five campuses have a long way to go: they would have needed to enroll between 500 and 950 more transfer students each to reach the 33% target last fall, given their freshmen enrollment levels.

In total, the five campuses would have had to enroll 3,776 more transfer students to meet the ratio last year. Are there enough qualified transfers to make up that ground? Some campuses have plenty of applicants. Berkeley, Irvine, and Santa Barbara admit fewer than half of their transfer applicants, and each campus denied more than 7,000 applicants in 2014. Riverside and Santa Cruz, however, could have more trouble finding students to fill the spots. Those campuses already admit almost 60% of their transfer applicants, and though they denied enrollment to about 3,600 students in 2014, many of these students could be ineligible for transfer to the university or specific major to which they are applying.

UC hopes to increase the size and strength of the pool of transfer applicants, as the UC President’s Transfer Action Team suggests in a recent report. The report recommends actions to increase outreach at the community colleges, streamline some of the transfer processes, and support transfer students once they arrive at a UC.

There is evidence that transfer students are successful at UC. Transfer students and students who enroll as freshmen have similar graduation rates. About 60% of freshmen graduate in four years and 83% graduate by their sixth year; 53% of transfer students graduate two years after transferring to a UC and 86% graduate by their fourth year after transferring.

UC’s recent budget agreement with the governor did not allocate any state funds for enrollment increases. That can change, depending on action taken by the legislature and governor.

Placing more community college transfers in UCs could help California close the gap between the number of college graduates the public higher education system is producing and the projected demand for college graduates by 2025. But at a time when UC is already turning away qualified high school graduates, the tradeoff between admitting transfer students and freshmen could be painful. Finding space for more eligible students in both categories would most benefit the state in the long run.

Chart source: Author calculations from University of California Office of the President Data.
Note: “Additional transfers needed” assumes a desired 2 to 1 freshmen to transfer ratio and that the enrollment of freshmen does not change. *Merced is not required to maintain a 2 to 1 ratio of freshmen to transfers.

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