Senate Takes Leadership Role on Transfer Issues
The Academic Senate is helping lead UC’s response to a range of issues and concerns about community college transfer as state policymakers, President Napolitano, and others call on the University to make the transfer path less complex, increase the transfer graduation rate, and expand its reach into a broader range of community colleges.
Many of the issues reflect the Senate’s long held commitment to the transfer path, access, diversity, and student success. Some reach into the heart of the UC faculty’s authority over academic matters, including their responsibility for courses and curriculum and the conditions for admission and degrees. Now, as a joint Senate-Administration Transfer Action Team prepares to issue recommendations for improving the transfer path, the Senate is reviewing its own successes and considering ways to tackle remaining transfer admission goals and challenges.
Some of the impetus behind the University’s recent work around transfer comes from state policymakers who argue that it would cost less to educate more students at community colleges during the lower division years. Some policymakers and advocates have also criticized UC and the other higher education segments for not accepting more transfers or providing a clear enough path to transfer admission. The UC Academic Senate continues to play an active role in these conversations, informing government officials about what the University and the Senate have done, and helping shape new policy to ensure it has a positive impact on student access and educational quality.
In November, Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) Chair George Johnson testified at a State Assembly Higher Education Committee hearing on transfer admission together with faculty, student, and administrative representatives from the other higher education segments. At the hearing, the UC contingent emphasized that UC increased its commitment to enrolling community college transfers over the last decade, despite significant budget cuts. They also noted that the proportion of transfer students at UC who come from underrepresented minority groups has risen, and that transfer students at UC perform as well as four-year students after they arrive; both groups have about an 85% graduation rate. In February, BOARS held its regular meeting in Sacramento to discuss current topics in transfer admissions with staff members from the legislature, the Governor’s office and the Department of Finance.
BOARS and the Senate acted in 2012 to amend the Senate Regulations that govern UC transfer admission policy to recognize explicitly the Associate’s Degree for Transfer pathway, developed by the community colleges and mandated for CSU in CA Senate Bill 1440. The Senate’s new transfer pathways policy, enacted as amendments to Senate Regulation 476, encourages prospective transfers to prepare for a specific major and guarantees an application review to transfer applicants who complete with a minimum GPA one of the associate degrees for transfer offered by a California community college. The pathways are intended to help clarify the transfer process for California community college students interested in UC, and also to improve their preparation for UC-level work.
In December 2013, BOARS approved new comprehensive review criteria for transfer students in the Guidelines for Implementation of University Policy on Undergraduate Admission, recognizing students who are on track to complete an associate of arts or science transfer degree offered by a California community college. The language will help put into operation the new transfer pathway in Senate Regulation 476 and ensure that admissions staff value appropriately the degrees when they are selecting applicants to admit.
In November 2013, BOARS approved Universitylink, a UC San Diego program that gives admission preference to low-income transfer students at nine designated San Diego area community colleges who fulfill specific academic requirements. The program responds to the reality that some community college students view their local UC as the only viable transfer option due to work or family obligations that tie them to a community.
Last fall, President Napolitano asked Chair Johnson and Vice President for Student Affairs Judy Sakaki to co-chair a Transfer Action Team (TAT), and charged it with developing recommendations about transfer for the Board of Regents. Two other Senate representatives serve on the 15-member Action Team—University Committee on Preparatory Education Chair Ross Frank and University Committee on Educational Policy Chair Timothy Labor. The TAT is expected to present its final report to the Regents in May.
Professor Johnson has reported on progress that the TAT has made since its first meeting in December at meetings of BOARS, UCEP, the Academic Council and the Assembly. Johnson reports the TAT has been considering why transfer applications to UC are declining, strategies for strengthening and streamlining transfer processes, and the extent to which UC can draw transfers from a broader set of community colleges across the state, particularly those with low transfer rates or high percentages of underrepresented students. He notes that 50% of CCC transfers come from only 19 of the 112 CCCs and that CCC transfers are, as a group, slightly less diverse than students who enter UC as freshmen. The TAT has also been asked to consider the role of transition programs, such as Summer Bridge, and the cost of transfer enrollment growth.
Johnson says the Action Team will be recommending that UC upgrade its transfer message with a new universitywide communications and technology strategy; create a stronger presence at every California community college to promote interest in transferring among a geographically, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse student body; upgrade support services to help transfers transition to and succeed at UC; and reaffirm UC’s commitment to transfer students by engaging every campus to meet the Master Plan’s 2:1 freshman-to transfer target.
“We know that UC does a good job of attracting and enrolling community college transfers who, once admitted, tend to perform as well as students who begin at UC as freshmen,” says Johnson. “We also believe that the University can do more to improve transfer graduation rates and to be more welcoming to transfers, so they can make a smoother transition to UC.”
Johnson says the report will also make clear that UC cannot increase transfer enrollments at the expense of freshmen nor without additional state funding. In addition, he says, the recommendations are not intended to weaken existing ties between UC and its high volume community college partners, but to strengthen ties to additional community colleges.
Johnson says the Action Team is aware that criticisms have been directed at UC because different campuses may require different preparation for the same or similar majors and because its individual campuses establish course articulation agreements with specific community colleges rather than standardizing course articulation across all campuses or disciplines. He says these issues fall under the direct purview of the Academic Senate, and faculty input will be necessary in reviewing the extent to which the transfer path can be enhanced by better course articulation. He notes that UC faculty want transfers into their departments’ majors to arrive prepared for UC-level work and that not all CCC courses are equivalent to UC courses, despite similar course titles. Similarly, departments across UC are still familiarizing themselves with the Transfer Model Curricula (TMC) developed by the CCC/CSU for Associate Degrees for Transfer. The departments need to determine whether the relevant TMC reflects appropriate preparation for the major as it is taught in the upper division. In some cases, faculty who teach in the same or a similar discipline at different UC campuses approach the major from different academic perspectives or with different emphases that may require more specific or extensive lower division preparation than what may be provided in some Associate Degrees for Transfer. In the end, he comments, UC majors reflect the cutting edge of knowledge in their respective disciplines as faculty incorporate the latest understandings into the curriculum.
Nonetheless, Johnson says the TAT report will recommend that UC build on previous faculty efforts to align lower division requirements for specific majors across UC campuses when possible, so that potential transfer students can prepare for more than one UC simultaneously, and also to align when possible, UC’s major requirements with the TMCs. The report will also recommend that UC faculty increase their involvement in the Course Identification Numbering (C-ID) project. C-ID is a common course “supranumbering” system for equivalent courses across the 112 CCCs. It is based on course descriptors developed by faculty from all three segments to help streamline transfer articulation. CCC campuses asserting that a course satisfies the C-ID “Course Descriptors” for a particular course keep their local course number, but may also use a C-ID number once the course is vetted by a committee of intersegmental faculty and found consistent with that particular C-ID supranumber.
UC participation in C-ID has so far been minimal. Nonetheless, Johnson says 82% of the more than 2,000 courses with C-ID descriptors are currently approved for UC transferability, and increasing UC faculty involvement in the process of writing descriptors could push that number even higher. “UC faculty support these efforts, but they also want to maintain their rights to set specific preparation requirements they feel are needed for their major,” says Johnson. “C-ID could be a very useful project to the extent that it can help students prepare for transfer.”
Past Senate and administration collaborations have already laid some of the groundwork to ensure that these projects can continue to evolve. For example, in 2010, UCOP and the systemwide Senate convened meetings of UC faculty from popular disciplines from all nine undergraduate campuses to review lower division major preparation requirements and discuss the extent to which they could be aligned. Those efforts helped create the UC Transfer Preparation Paths. The Senate’s new Transfer Policy also directs campuses to look at the extent to which they can align their lower division major preparation requirements with one another and to the corresponding CCC/CSU Transfer Model Curricula.
The ASSIST website (www.assist.org) is an existing resource supported by all three segments that provides information about individual articulation agreements; however, many students are unaware of ASSIST and the information can be confusing to others. The ASSIST “Next Generation” website upgrade will create a more user-friendly experience and allow students to more easily track their progress toward transfer requirements.
Chair Jacob says the Senate will be looking closely at the recommendations in the TAT report. “The Senate views the transfer process as a critical part of UC’s Master Plan commitment and its ability to serve the state and its diverse populations,” he says. “I appreciate BOARS’ leadership in supporting the associate degrees for transfer; its continued participation in discussions about articulation and C-ID will also be essential.”