Bills Could Improve Access for Transfer Students

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Students struggling to transfer from community colleges to the state's four-year college systems could have the gates of access kicked open a little wider if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approves two bills recently sent to his desk by the state Legislature by the end of the month.

Together, the two bills would create a new transfer degree for community college students and guarantee recipients a spot at one of the California State University's 23 campuses - a measure officials from both systems say will make the transfer process substantially more efficient and save the state close to $160 million worth of redundant courses.

Current transfer requirements, which differ not only between CSU campuses but also between community college districts, are so muddled and repetitive that the average community college transfer graduates from a CSU with one-third more units than are required, according to Alex Pader, president of the Student Senate for California Community colleges.

"(Transferring) is so broken, complicated and confusing that even teachers, chancellors, even advisors don't know everything they need to get (students) into a four-year school," he said.

The bills do not require the University of California to follow suit, though the legislative pressure to simplify the transfer process has been felt at the UC system, said Dan Simmons, chair of the UC Academic Senate. The two bills were a direct result of recently made recommendations from a state committee convened to analyze the status of California's higher education system.

That committee singled out a clearer transfer system as the most efficient way to increase the number of state workers with college degrees - a group that the committee reported is not growing along with the state's economic need.

According to a report presented to the committee by the Public Policy Institute of California, 40 percent of jobs in the state will require a college degree by 2025, but at the current graduation rate only 35 percent of the state workforce will have a degree - a shortfall of one million college graduates.

State Assemblymember Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, who co-chaired the committee and co-authored both transfer bills, said the bills are a "revolutionary step" for the state's system of higher education.

But with the bills potentially decreasing the time it takes for students to graduate and increasing the amount of students transferring, some worry that there will not be enough space for them.

"If the state is really serious about helping transfers or helping access to the university, they will come forward with funds to support these students," Simmons said. "The Legislature has to support the enrollment if they want this to happen."

Schwarzenegger's May revision of the state budget does contain funding for increased enrollment, though not enough to compensate for the total number of unfunded students in the UC system, which currently stands at around 15,000.

Ruskin acknowledged that a more efficient transfer system could strain the state's already over-enrolled colleges.

"Our work is not done." he said. "Ultimately the Legislature, the governor and the people need to make a commitment to the kind of system of higher education ... that we all want."

Those concerns can be somewhat quelled by the savings that a more efficient system could bring, according to Erik Fallis, a spokesperson for the CSU system. He said if the bills are signed into law, the number of excessive units students take due to repetition between systems will fall and the state could save close to $160 million. Those savings could go towards 40,000 more seats at community colleges and 14,000 across the CSU system, Fallis said.

He added that the average student graduates with 165 units due to redundancies, though only 120 are required.

Schwarzenegger has until the end of September to decide on the bills.


Javier Panzar is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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