Since 2001, the Center for Community College Partnerships has changed more than the lives of countless students who thought they might never attend a four-year university — it’s completely transformed the local, statewide, national and even global landscape for transfer students.

This remarkable legacy can be traced back to the passionate vision of its founder and director, Alfred Herrera, UCLA’s assistant dean for academic partnerships. After a 42-year career at UCLA, where he has made an unparalleled impact, Herrera retires this month. Ahead of his departure, he shared with Newsroom his perspective on the journey — and future — of UCLA’s CCCP.

What do you remember about the foundation of the Center for Community College Partnerships?

As a first-generation, low-income Chicano, I know the power one person can make. We wanted to create a space where students would feel welcomed, informed and seen — UCLA is a huge place. At that point, there were not a lot of conversations about transfer students. People who’ve known me for a long time remember how every time I walked into a discussion about admissions, I always raised my hand and asked, “What about transfers?” And we came up with the idea of creating a center with a three-pronged effort, focusing on student programming, training community college staff and getting the support of the administration and faculty at community colleges as well as at UCLA. Our efforts are focused on first-generation, low-income underrepresented students.

Since 2001, we have been perfecting our model and creating a number of initiatives, from academic summer residential programs to peer advising and more. We have grown from a staff of one person to having 17 full-time staff members and almost 90 peer advisors today, with comprehensive partnerships with several community colleges.

How is the center seen in its field?

It has grown to be a model across the University of California system — we are the only center in the UC that focuses solely on community college transfer students. We have become a model nationally as well. I’m on the advisory board for the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, which is the only national organization of its kind, and we were named one of four national Examples of Excelencia in 2019 by the nonprofit Excelencia in Education — a huge acknowledgment and validation for our work.

For the last 20-plus years, we’ve also had a partnership with ECHO, a diversity policy organization in the Netherlands. I met the director in 2000 at a conference that I was presenting at in Scotland, and ever since we have hosted yearly groups of 15 to 30 administrators, faculty and staff — including the minister of education for the Netherlands in 2016 — from a variety of European universities for weeklong study-tours about diversity and social justice.

How have the numbers been?

The admissions rate at UCLA for students who come from community colleges without any support from programming like ours is around 22% or so. Our rate at UCLA is over 50%. And if you look across the UC, CSU and private systems, we have a 95% admissions rate for students applying to four-year universities. Most of our students are getting admitted, and the most beautiful part is that many students who get admitted to UCLA ultimately become our peer mentors to pay their experience forward.

What makes you proudest of the center’s journey?

UCLA has become a leader in California and beyond in the support of transfer students. It has taken a long time; there’s still a lot more to do. But the fact that we have structures, programs and people in place that never were there 25 years ago is really a beautiful accomplishment. We developed and published the Transfer Receptive Culture framework, which is what universities need to have to welcome and support transfer students.

We’re also working on elevating our practical center into a full-fledged research center, aligned to research faculty. I have a commitment from the leadership that the work will continue and they will continue to provide resources for this essential part of UCLA. Because transfer students bring a different life perspective that enriches the university beyond measure, we need to make sure we are accessible and welcoming to them.

What has UCLA meant to you?

Home. Heart. I never thought this would be my lifelong work, but the daily rewards of seeing what we’re doing for students make me so grateful it has been. I realized that if I can help one person, I'm really not helping just them, I’m helping that person and their family and their community. And then that person helps someone else — the ripple effect. Many people who were part of our program are now in prominent positions: elected officials, attorneys, professors, doctors, nurses and counselors and in other roles at community colleges and other institutions throughout the state, and it’s so beautiful and meaningful to know we have infused this energy of change throughout the system.

As bittersweet as it feels, it’s time for me to step aside and let the young warriors take over. But I’ll come back on recall to help the new person in every way I can. I’ll also continue doing consulting and training work across the nation. This is my heartwork, and I am just so grateful for what we have built — and continue to build — together.