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Dual Admission Could Help More Students Transfer from Community College to State Universities

Hans Johnson February 19, 2021
photo - California State University, Fullerton

California ranks in the top 10 for states enrolling recent high school graduates in community college, but in the bottom 10 for students enrolling in a four-year college. Improving the transfer pathway from community colleges to four-year universities is one way to accommodate more students at four-year colleges. It could also improve equity in higher education—Black and Latino students are much more likely to enroll in community colleges than four-year universities. And with an 18% increase in students applying to UC for fall 2022—including even larger gains among Black students—demand is clear and the timing is right for improving access.

Dual admission is a promising approach for improving the transfer pathway. In a dual admission program, students who apply to and enroll in a community college would be conditionally accepted to a state university. The program could also be designed to include those who first apply to a state university but are not admitted; private colleges could participate as well.

Through dual admission, students would gain more certainty and clarity as they develop their academic plans, and the program could lower or eliminate application burdens. It also offers a less costly route to a bachelor’s degree, given the relatively lower costs of attending a community college for most students.

California already has a strong foundation to develop a dual admission program. With the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) program, students can earn an associate degree in two years at a community college and then enter the California State University system as a junior. The ADT is popular—the number of students earning the degree has risen quickly over the past decade.

figure - More Students Are Completing the Associate Degree for Transfer Program

But the ADT is not a dual admission program: students are not admitted to a four-year university when they enter community college. Instead, they must still apply to a CSU campus as or after they complete their degree. Students who meet the CSU’s minimum eligibility requirements are then guaranteed priority admission. While all community colleges and CSU campuses participate, ADT agreements vary by major and campus. Moreover, while some private colleges participate in a modified version of ADT, UC does not—it has separate but similar programs.

In a dual admission program, UC or CSU would offer admission to entering, transfer-intending community college students with the stipulation that students complete their first two years at a community college, and pending completion of ADT requirements. Expanding the ADT to include more majors (especially engineering) and UC campuses, and unifying course requirements across campuses, would also make the program more attractive and effective. To maximize educational mobility, the program should focus on students who are not UC- or CSU-eligible when they finish high school.

The governor’s proposed budget calls for establishing a program by 2023, and a recent report by the Recovery with Equity Taskforce identified dual admission as one way to create “clear, easy-to-navigate pathways into and through post-secondary education.” UC and CSU have already expressed their interest in increasing transfer. Finding room—and funding—to accommodate all qualified students will be a challenge, but a well-designed dual admission program could raise transfer rates and allow more Californians to achieve their educational goals.

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