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UC aims to widen pipeline for state's transfer students

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Frankie Guzman, who graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2012, offers a striking example of how the transfer process can reverse destinies. At a time when University of California officials are working to increase the number of students transferring to UC from the state’s community colleges, his path out of poverty and crime holds a lesson for a blue-ribbon panel convened by President Janet Napolitano to streamline the transfer process to better serve California residents.

Raised in a poor, crime-plagued community, Guzman served time in the juvenile justice system before determining to get his life back on track. He enrolled in Oxnard Community College in Ventura County and then, through hard work, was able to transfer to UC Berkeley, where he earned a B.A. in English.

“This time, I left my community not in handcuffs, but in search of a better life,” Guzman said.

Guzman came to UCLA through a new pipeline program that involves 23 community colleges and two law schools to get community college students on a path to law school. “I’m living proof of what partnerships like this can produce, in providing students with opportunities to succeed regardless of where they’ve come from,” said the law alumnus, who served as a mentor to others in the Law Fellows Program that prepares students from diverse backgrounds for law school.

Enrolling highly qualified transfer students is an important priority, UCLA leaders said. Transfer students bring academic abilities and diverse backgrounds, work histories and life journeys that enrich the campus experience for all students.

To extend UCLA’s long-standing commitment to transfer students, the university has increased the number of transfer students it will enroll for fall 2014. UCLA has set its fall transfer enrollment target at 3,100 students, an increase of 200 from last year.

Recognizing that the transfer process is “an engine of social mobility for our state,” UC President Janet Napolitano has made streamlining the transfer process a top priority for her administration. “Put simply, if we are serving transfers well, then we are serving the state well," she told the Board of Regents meeting Wednesday in Sacramento.

Vital pathway to UC

At UC, transfer students comprise roughly one-third of all undergraduates, with about 15,000 new transfers joining UC each year. And they are part of the reason why UC has such a strong record of serving first-generation and low-income college students. In 2013, 52 percent of UC’s incoming transfers were among the first in their families to go to college, and 55 percent of transfer students come from low-income families.

UC Office of the President

At Wednesday’s meeting, the transfer action team that Napolitano convened last fall outlined for the board steps that UC can immediately take to simplify the transfer process and attract students from a wider array of community colleges in the state. The team is led by Provost Aimée Dorr and co-chaired by Judy Sakaki, UC vice president of student affairs, and George Johnson, chair of UC’s Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools.

Among the steps are simplifying the information UC gives students about how to transfer, increasing outreach at community colleges around the state and offering more support to transfers once they arrive at a UC campus.

The task force also called for working closely with California’s other public systems of higher education — California Community Colleges and California State University — to urge state lawmakers to provide the resources necessary for increasing the capacity at all three systems to accommodate more students.

 “Transfer quite literally opens doors and changes lives,” said Sakaki.

A call to streamline course requirements

UC’s commitment to transfer students is unrivaled among selective research institutions nationally, said Provost Dorr. These students do well at UC, boasting graduation rates that are among the highest in the nation for transfer students.

At UCLA, for example, the latest data on four-year graduation rates show that 89.3 percent of the fall 2009 cohort earned their undergraduate degrees.

But while transfer enables many bright and promising students to attain a UC education, many others are discouraged from applying by a process that is complex and hard to navigate, officials said.

The transfer action team report recommended that simpler, clear-cut academic pathways be created to give students information about which courses are eligible for transfer, and to make this information consistent across the system.

“Transfer is complicated, and at UC it is even more so because of the differing requirements among campuses for transfer into similar majors,” Johnson said.

Simplifying transfer requirements would not mean lowering UC’s academic standards, he said.

“We can’t streamline the curriculum at the expense of not having students prepared for academic coursework.”

Regents called upon UC to accelerate faculty-led efforts already underway, such as those to align UC transfer requirements with the associate degree for transfer. Issued by California Community Colleges, these degrees lay out which courses students need to take to make them eligible for transfer to a four-year program at California State University.

Building ties with underrepresented community colleges

Discussion also centered on efforts to increase the diversity of the transfer population and draw students from a wider array of community colleges.

The majority of transfers come to UC from a small subset of the state’s community colleges, which hinders geographic, ethnic and racial diversity among transfer applicants.

While UC admitted and enrolled at least one student from each of the state’s 112 community colleges as of fall 2012, half of all UC transfers come from fewer than 20 percent of the state’s community colleges.

The team called for establishing a “California Community College to UC Pipeline Initiative” to increase transfers from underrepresented schools by building partnerships with them and offering increased advising and academic resources.

It also called for increasing UC’s presence at all California community colleges. As part of that effort, Napolitano will visit community colleges across the state to inspire and educate students about the transfer path.

Balancing demand for freshman admissions

A major issue is how UC will balance the interests of transfer students with those of students who seek to enter the university as freshmen.

“We are not recommending displacing freshmen, nor are we recommending increasing transfer admissions without increased funding from the state,” Sakaki said. “Growing overall enrollment requires more state funding.”

Others, however, called for making more specific commitments to increasing transfer enrollment. “At the end of the day, if we’re not taking more transfer students, I would argue we’re collectively falling short,” said Erik Skinner, vice chancellor of California Community Colleges.

“Are we increasing the number of students or just the pool of applicants?” asked Regent Sherry Lansing. “This will require a lot of review.”

Regents asked the transfer action team to return for further discussion of these issues.

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