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It's Time to Improve the Transfer Process for Community College Students

July 25, 2018

By Katherine Tong, ECMC Foundation

Katherine Tong

On the first day of classes at community college, students enter both excited and motivated. The majority who enroll plan to transfer within two years. That’s exactly how I felt when I first stepped on to my community college campus.

Then it all came crashing down when I heard: “You’re missing a class, sweetie. That’s why you’re ineligible to transfer. You didn’t know?”

Those words from my counselor rang through my head for weeks. I was confused and absolutely devastated.

A little background on me: My college journey started at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), but I left after realizing that UCR did not offer the major I wanted to pursue. In my second year, I enrolled into Citrus Community College (Citrus) with the goal of transferring to a California State University campus by the next school year. I had created, what I thought was, a bulletproof plan with all the required courses, submitted documents to receive credit from my previous course work at UCR, and spoke with counselors to ensure I was on the right path. I made it my mission to transfer and graduate with my bachelor’s degree in four years.

Transfer ProcessWhen I received rejection letters from colleges all stating that I was ineligible to transfer, I had no clue what went wrong with my application. I assumed my grades weren’t what they needed to be, and that my competition was far more stellar. I just thought I would try again next year, and hope for the best.

The following fall, I met with a counselor to review my transfer application again. My counselor told me one of my classes did not transfer over from UCR, and that made my application incomplete. This is where I realized that there is a clear disconnect between transfer students and available resources to help students complete their coursework and transfer to a four-year institution. Up until then, none of the counselors I met with had caught this. Luckily, I was able to get on the waitlist for the course I needed, and eventually enrolled into the class.

Transferring to a four-year institution may appear to be a breeze, but in fact, it’s not. ECMC Foundation grantee partner, the Campaign for College Opportunity’s report, The Transfer Maze: The High Cost to Students and the State of California sheds light on the challenges that face California’s community college students as they navigate the transfer process.

It’s easy to get lost in the transfer maze, which is ripe with challenges. Counselors don’t have the time to provide students in-depth, one-on-one guidance since the student-counselor ratio is 615:1. Thus, students don’t receive the help they need to navigate their way through community college. Many students take additional time to transfer because of confusing transfer requirements and long-waiting lists for classes. Insufficient funds and classroom capacity make it difficult for them to access necessary, required courses. While the intention of most students is to transfer within two years, only 4 percent transfer within two years, 25 percent within four, and 38 percent in six.

In its report, the Campaign for College Opportunity proposed solutions such as increasing state funding to improve classroom capacity, honoring the recommended pathways, creating reliable routes all students can follow, among others. The good news is: Progress is underway. Earlier this month, to help students persist and graduate within two years, community colleges announced they would award up to $4,000 to community college students who enroll full time. Existing transfer promise programs, including CSU’s Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) and UC’s Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) provide a clearer pathway for community college students who want to transfer to either CSU or UC schools. However, the programs aren’t without challenges. For instance, several CSU and UC institutions do not adhere to the pathways recommended to students; and, from my experience, some students aren’t even aware of ADT and TAG.

All that said, it is possible to find one’s way out of the maze. This fall, I will be enrolling into California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and could not be more excited. But, I am a part of only the 12.9 percent of students who have successfully transferred to a four-year institution within three years.

This statistic is bleak, and our institutions can do better. Success is definitely attainable, but first it needs to be accessible.

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