Improving community college transfer rates has become an increasingly important policy goal as California aims to create a larger and more diverse pool of college-educated workers. Last week, PPIC research associate Cesar Alesi Perez presented findings from a new report on recent transfer trends and research fellow Marisol Cuellar Mejia discussed efforts to streamline the transfer process with a panel of higher education leaders.
Perez explained that transferring to a four-year institution puts community college students on the path to obtain a bachelor’s degree, strengthening their economic security. However, transfer rates remain low. “About 19% of students transfer within four years of initial enrollment,” said Perez. And racial disparities are large: “about one in four Asian and white transfer-intending students transfer within four years, compared to less than 16% of Black and Latino students.”
Though overall transfer rates remain low, several recent reforms show promising results, noted Cuellar Mejia. In particular, students who successfully transfer are increasingly likely to do so within two years. Some factors that could be contributing to this trend include growth in the shares of students earning an Associate Degree for Transfer, completing transfer-level English and math in their first year, and starting community college while still attending high school, known as dual enrollment.
Increasing transparency around transfer requirements has been key to reducing barriers for students. Laura Massa, interim associate vice chancellor of Academic and Faculty Programs at California State University (CSU), emphasized that “you need to be able to see the route so you can plan your journey.” She added that one reason behind the success of the Associate Degree for Transfer, which guarantees students admission to a CSU campus with junior standing, is that the program makes clear exactly what steps students need to take to meet their transfer goal.
As part of its efforts to narrow racial equity gaps, the community college system plans to encourage more students from underrepresented communities to participate in dual enrollment, said Aisha N. Lowe, executive vice chancellor of the Office of Equitable Student Learning, Experience, and Impact at California Community Colleges. She added that another focus area will be a “9th grade to baccalaureate” initiative, which will aim for “every 9th grader to complete high school with at least 12 units of dual enrollment credit.”
Both CSU and the University of California (UC) have also launched dual admission programs. This year, UC invited several thousand freshmen applicants who were missing key requirements to participate in its pilot program, according to Yvette Gullatt, vice president and vice provost of Graduate, Undergraduate, and Equity Affairs at UC. The program includes a provisional financial aid offer and provides advising and other supports to ensure students are making progress toward transfer at their community college.
As the state and colleges build on recent progress to further increase and diversify the pool of transfer students, PPIC will continue to monitor the impact of these reforms on student success and equity.