Lawmakers may add muscle to college transfer program

The Fresno BeeAugust 3, 2013 

Three years after state lawmakers OK'd historic legislation intended to put students on the fast track to a bachelor's degree, legislators are aiming to beef up the statute.

The original law passed in 2010 was pitched as a way to save state and families' dollars by cleaning up the clumsy transfer process and easing the transition from community college to four-year universities. Under that measure, students who complete a two-year major program were for the first time guaranteed admission to a California State University campus -- and transfer of all their credits.

But many schools still aren't in step with milestones set by the California Community Colleges chancellor's office.

A clean-up bill that zoomed through the Senate in May and is headed for vetting by an Assembly committee next week strengthens the 2010 legislation by mandating that two-year schools adopt more degree programs.

"We've had some community colleges really embrace the spirit of the bill and not limit themselves to two (majors)," said state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, sponsor of both bills. "But some are still more resistant and slower to come along, so we needed to put more teeth in the bill."

But some students and educators say the proposal -- which wouldn't provide additional funding or set penalties -- needs to compel community colleges to comply and get students to enroll.

So far, data from The Campaign for College Opportunity, a California-based nonprofit, shows many community colleges have been slow to adopt the transfer-degree program.

Just 28 of the state's 112 community colleges have created at least 60% of the transfer majors they've agreed to set up. And more than a dozen schools offer just two or three out of the 25 majors that give students a direct pathway from a two-year program to a bachelor's degree in a specific subject area.

In the Valley, only Fresno City College and Reedley College are on target. Five of the region's other schools -- including West Hills College Coalinga and Modesto Junior -- have created less than half of their promised majors.

"The colleges throughout the Central Valley are definitely on board. The challenge is, if they're not a large organization with a lot of human resources, it's going to take time," said Tim Woods, Fresno City's vice president of instruction. He said Fresno City professors have given "hundreds of hours" of their own time to make their college's program a success.

According to the CCCS chancellor's office, just 1,300 students graduated from community colleges with transfer majors last year. About 50,000 CCCS students transfer to CSU schools annually.

Erik Skinner, deputy chancellor for CCCS, said simply creating the new curriculum -- and then communicating that across the state's community colleges and the CSU system -- has been challenging. The initial bill became law at the same time the state slashed CCCS funding by 12%, he said, putting even more pressure on schools forced to operate on shrinking budgets.

"It's not a quick process given all those layers of implementation," he said. "Keep in mind this is a policy challenge California has been wrestling with in a very active way for the last 30 or more years."

So far, 800 transfer-major degrees are in place across CCCS schools. Skinner said another 850 are expected to go online in the next few months.

He said CCCS has never asked for "major infusions" of state cash to kick-start the new majors. But the system could use money, he said, to hype the programs. The system has set up a website to promote the degrees, but there's no additional advertising funds.

That's one of the biggest headaches about the legislation, said Daniel Clark, a 23-year-old business major at Fresno State.

Clark attended Fresno City College for five years in pursuit of a fire science associate's degree before falling ill with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- a diagnosis that canceled his dreams of becoming a firefighter. He switched to Fresno State to get a business degree without ever hearing about the transfer-degree program.

"There was no communication with the students, and if there was, there was very little," he said. "I know here in the Central Valley they've made big improvements on offering those courses, but there's still a lot of progress to be made."

Even so, Woods said, Fresno City is taking more steps to educate potential students about the majors. The college sends out guidance counselors to local high schools and promotes the majors during new-student orientation.

"In the next couple years it's going to become very routine," he said. "Students are going to know, it's not going to be so foreign."

For more information about the transfer-degree program visit:

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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