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Students walk on campus at UCLA.

Proposed legislation would require the University of California system to guarantee admission to transfer students using the same criteria as the California State University system.

David McNew/Staff/Getty Images News/Getty Images North America

University of California system leaders are opposing a state bill that would create a single, guaranteed transfer pathway to University of California and California State University system campuses. UC administrators and other opponents don’t believe the bill as written benefits students. Proponents of the bill say the legislation is a long-overdue step to ease a convoluted transfer process for many students.

About 80,000 California community college students transfer to UC and CSU campuses each year, according to the community college system’s website.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 1749, authored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, would guarantee graduates of California Community Colleges admission to at least one UC system campus if they earn what’s known as an associate degree for transfer, or A.D.T. Students who have an A.D.T. have met requirements that already guarantee them admission to a CSU campus, though not necessarily the campus of their choice.

The bill’s advocates include the California Community College system’s chancellor and the student governments of both the community college and UC systems. They argue that having to make sense of multiple sets of requirements to apply to CSU and UC campuses is inefficient and confusing for students. The proposed legislation would provide automatic admission to colleges in both the UC and CSU systems to students who meet minimum admission requirements.

Critics of the bill say UC’s requirements for majoring in certain fields of study, particularly in STEM fields, don’t align with CSU’s requirements for majoring in the same fields. The opponents also contend that students earning A.D.T.s would have to take extra classes once they got to a UC or take unnecessary classes only the CSU system requires, which would mean transfer students taking longer to graduate. UC officials also argue that the current admissions process, which accounts for factors beyond GPA and course requirements, is more likely to bring in a diverse transfer cohort and ensure students come academically prepared.

Currently, six of the nine UC undergraduate campuses, except for UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego, have guaranteed transfer pathways. But the requirements and eligible majors differ by campus.

“Multiple transfer pathways result in needless complexities that can delay student transfer plans,” David O’Brien, vice chancellor of government relations at the community college system, wrote in a letter to the Senate Education Committee supporting the proposed legislation ahead of the vote.

An opposition letter from UC leaders to the committee said the current bill “is not reflective of an approach that prioritizes successful outcomes for transfer students.” It notes that approximately 40,000 transfer students apply annually and about 75 percent gain admission to the system.

The bill risks “increasing students’ time to degree and potentially raising the cost to attain their education” by requiring unnecessary courses, the UC system president’s office said in a written statement to Inside Higher Ed. Getting rid of comprehensive review also prioritizes “local admissions while guaranteeing admission solely on the basis of the courses students take and what grades they receive, which ignores the many other important factors.”

UC officials reasserted their position at a Board of Regents meeting in July, EdSource reported.

“We have no issue with the basic concept of making the student process for transfer simpler, to streamline that process,” Kathleen Fullerton, associate vice president and director of state government relations at the UC president’s office, said at the meeting. She noted that system administrators are working with state lawmakers to try to come up with a version of the bill on which they can find consensus. “We just don’t agree at this point that the way this particular bill is written is going to work for the university,” she said.

A ‘Powerful’ or ‘Oversimplified’ Solution?

Jessie Ryan, executive vice president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, a California-based research and advocacy organization pushing for the bill, said she’s optimistic it will pass.

She said improving transfer is one way to diversify the student bodies of California’s four-year colleges since the state banned affirmative action in 1996. She believes the UC system can serve as a role model for doing so after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision prohibiting using race in admissions decisions.

Community colleges are a “gateway to opportunity” for many “Black, Latinx, Indigenous students, low-income and first-generation students,” Ryan said. “So, this promise of a simple and straightforward path to transfer is not only critical to meeting California’s college promise, but it’s also critical to ensuring that we have the kind of diverse, inclusive four-year campuses that the state has long envisioned.”

Fewer than 3 percent of California community college students transfer within two years, according to a 2021 report by the Campaign for College Opportunity. Only about 10 percent of Black and Latino students transferred within four years, compared to 17 percent of their white peers and 24 percent of their Asian peers. Meanwhile, about 70 percent of transfer students to UC campuses already earned an A.D.T., Ryan said. Students with A.D.T.s graduate from universities in two years at a slightly higher rate (65 percent) compared to other transfer students (63 percent).

David Ramirez, governmental relations chair of the UC Student Association and a rising senior at UCLA, said as a first-generation student at Pasadena City College, he didn’t know what a major was, let alone how to navigate multiple transfer pathways. He tried to transfer three times. At first he applied to a mix of CSU and UC campuses and then decided his heart was set on a UC.

But to apply primarily to UC institutions, “I kind of had to change up my education plan and take different courses that I hadn’t been taking because I just didn’t know what exact path I wanted” and “because the two systems are so different with the requirements that they have,” he said.

Ramirez and other students were appointed last year to serve on a committee of higher ed system representatives tasked with streamlining the transfer pathway under a 2021 law. That law requires community colleges to automatically place students on the guaranteed transfer pathway to the CSU by August 2024 and requires the UC and CSU systems to come up with a common set of general education requirements by fall 2025.

Ramirez believes a single guaranteed transfer pathway is the next step and that the UC system is disadvantaging low-income students and students of color by resisting the idea.

“Transfer pathways as they exist now are just way too complicated for students like us,” he said. “We have to constantly navigate a hidden curriculum that is not accessible to all students.”

James Chalfant, chair of the UC Academic Senate’s special committee on transfer, agrees that transfer students face too many barriers, but he doesn’t see the proposed legislation as the solution.

The UC system proposed its own systemwide guaranteed transfer pathway at a State Assembly hearing this past spring. Students would have to complete a set of general education courses required by both the UC and CSU systems, plus specific coursework for UC majors, and earn a minimum GPA. Students who didn’t get accepted to their preferred campus would have a guaranteed spot at UC Merced, UC Riverside or UC Santa Cruz.

Chalfant said the system’s “counteroffer” is based on pre-existing transfer pathways “designed by our faculty.”

UC professors are portrayed by the bill’s advocates as “not being willing to adjust, but it’s not that at all,” he said. “It’s that we know what our majors require. We know what we asked our freshmen and sophomores to do.” The courses required for the guaranteed admissions process for the CSU are “the wrong set of courses for preparing for UC.”

He believes admitting students without the right preparation hurts them in the long run.

“I personally think it’s unconscionable to bring a student here who imagines they’re ready to graduate in two more years, and then they discover, well, no, that’s not actually enough to be a biology major at UC Davis or a chemist at UC Berkeley or whatever,” he said.

Community college professors also have concerns about the bill.

Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, president of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, which advocates for professors in the system, described the bill as an “oversimplified solution to a very complex problem.” The association didn’t formally oppose the bill, but some faculty members worry that, if the bill becomes law, they’ll have to make significant curriculum changes to incorporate UC requirements into the guaranteed pathway to the CSU.

The community college, CSU and UC systems have been working together to develop a common set of general education requirements for the two university systems, mandated by Assembly Bill 928. Community college professors have found it challenging to settle on course curricula that meet both CSU and UC standards, Brill-Wynkoop said.

“One degree and two guarantees” sounds ideal to state lawmakers, “but I don’t know how possible that is without overhauling the curriculum to the point where it just won’t match the CSUs’ anymore,” Brill-Wynkoop said.

She added that the legislation also doesn’t solve the problem that many of her students are older with families and jobs and enrolled part-time. They can’t necessarily transfer out of community college within two years and move away from their homes to attend whatever UC and CSU accepts them through a guarantee.

“What our students really need is priority admission to the CSU or UC campus of their choice,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what we do to prep the students for transfer and make it easier and streamlined if they can’t go.”

Ryan, of the Campaign for College Opportunity, said the bill’s supporters are “in conversation with the University of California and other stakeholder groups to talk about what would be necessary to ensure that this bill could be signed and implemented to the benefit of students across the state.”

She said the bill is critical at a time when students are questioning whether college is worth the costs and hassles. In light of enrollment declines and high dropout rates during the pandemic, the passage of the bill would also be “a powerful commitment to make at a time students are determining whether or not they re-enroll or enroll in the first place,” she said.

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