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UC May Struggle to Meet Transfer Requirement

Jacob Jackson June 1, 2017

Governor Brown’s May budget proposal withholds $50 million from the University of California (UC), which must undertake a series of reforms to restore the funds. One requirement—the result of a deal made during the 2015 budget process—is that UC meet its fall 2017 target of enrolling only two new in-state freshmen for every in-state transfer student, both systemwide and at each campus (except Merced). In 2016, the system enrolled 2.3 freshmen for every transfer student. The 2:1 target is intended to increase the number of transfer students served by UC. But reaching this freshmen-to-transfer ratio while responding to growing freshmen demand could prove very difficult this year and in the future.

UC has made progress in enrolling more transfer students but has not come closer to meeting its target ratio. In the last year, UC enrolled almost 2,000 more transfer students, a 13% increase and the biggest jump in more than a decade. However, UC also enrolled more than 5,000 additional freshmen compared with the previous year (a 17% increase)—leaving the freshmen-to-transfer ratio slightly higher.

In recent years, demand to attend UC has increased much faster for freshmen than for transfers. This year, there are more than 3.5 freshmen applicants for every transfer applicant. Since 2011, freshmen applications have increased by 31%, while transfer applications have declined by 1%.

Can UC attain a 2:1 ratio while responding to growing demand for freshmen slots in 2017? To do so, the system would need to draw more transfer students from a smaller applicant pool—especially if officials also plan on increasing freshmen enrollment. Compared to last year, 1,000 fewer in-state transfer students and 6,000 more in-state freshman applied. This problem is particularly acute at Santa Cruz and Riverside, which enrolled more than 3.5 freshmen for every transfer student in 2016 and may not meet the 2:1 goal this year.

UC may also have trouble meeting its target freshmen-to-transfer ratio in the future. If the number of freshmen applicants keeps increasing while the number of transfer applicants stagnates, UC may have to turn away more in-state freshmen applicants to meet its goal. To increase the quantity and quality of future transfer pools, the system is working to expand existing transfer agreements between UC campuses and nearby community colleges. In addition, UC’s new Transfer Pathways program helps prepare community college students in the most popular majors to transfer as juniors to any UC campus. The new program could start showing results in the next couple of years.

Though transfer demand at UC is sluggish, transferring is still a popular path for students elsewhere. California State University (CSU) has seen 14% growth in transfer applications since 2011 and, in 2016, received over 106,000 transfer applications (about three times as many as UC). UC could look to a recent success at CSU, which worked with the California Community Colleges to develop the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT). Like the Transfer Pathways program, the ADT prepares community college students for junior-level entry at any CSU campus. But the ADT goes further by guaranteeing that students will only need 60 more units at CSU to graduate from their major. It also guarantees students admission to the CSU system and offers priority consideration at a local CSU campus. The ADT is quickly becoming a popular option, with 30,000 ADTs awarded in 2015–16 alone. Of course, students are considering other factors, such as cost, distance, eligibility, and availability when choosing where to apply for transfer. Guaranteed pathways to a degree and priority consideration in admission, however, are likely to entice potential transfers.

It will be difficult for UC to achieve its 2017 transfer requirement, especially at Santa Cruz and Riverside—putting into question whether the system will receive the $50 million withheld in the governor’s budget proposal. With increasing demand for freshmen slots, UC must work to increase the pool of transfer applicants to meet both the 2:1 goal and freshmen demand going forward.

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