It has taken California 50 years to bring a key tenet of its Master Plan for Higher Education to life. And if the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown's administration do not act decisively now, we may lose the best chance we have had in those five decades to deliver on that promise.
It's a simple concept and one that many Californians assume is already in place, but that has been frustratingly absent.
The framers of the 1960 master plan assumed that transfers would be a top priority of our California community colleges and that there would be a clear pathway for community college students to transfer to a California State University campus, where they could immediately begin upper division course work.
What we have instead is inconsistent, duplicative and ever-changing course work and other requirements that have frustrated and discouraged students. Course work accepted by one CSU may not be accepted by another. Some CSUs require community college graduates with an associate's degree to take additional classes for admission as juniors. Others do not. Or it depends on the major, and major requirements vary from campus to campus.
The lack of a uniform system has created significant barriers to transfer, has added expense for both students and the state, and has led to an unacceptably low transfer rate of 23 percent within six years for degree-seeking students, according to a study by the Campaign for College Opportunity and the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy.
Still, there has been considerable progress since the 2010 adoption of Senate Bill 1440, the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, or STAR Act. SB 1440 mandated that community colleges and the CSU develop a uniform "associate's degree for transfer" with a clear pathway from community college to the CSU system that students and their families can count on.
But the promise of SB 1440 and the state Master Plan now are in jeopardy. Many of the 112 community colleges are just minimally in compliance, offering only a few associate's degrees for transfer to their students. Students transferring to the CSU system using the new pathway have more restricted access to majors and concentrations than CSU freshman. And, too few students are even aware that the pathway exists.
Without robust implementation of SB 1440 and a recommitment to the state's transfer mission, the vision for a student-centered transfer pathway will never become a reality, and the state of California will continue to suffer.
State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, author of SB 1440, is now proposing legislation, SB 440, to ensure that every community college offers the maximum number possible of associate's degrees for transfer, that transfer students to the CSU can access the same majors and concentrations as freshmen, and that the pathway is communicated to students and parents across the state.
SB 440 would require community colleges and CSU to meet clear benchmarks for offering associate's degrees for transfer at each community college and for accepting them at each CSU campus.
Padilla's bill would require the CSU system to develop an admissions redirection process, similar to that used by the University of California system, for students who are not initially accepted to their campus of choice. Without redirection, the original admission guarantee for transfer students goes unfulfilled.
The bill takes a common sense approach in seeking to ensure the intent of the earlier legislation and the California Master Plan. SB 440 has already cleared the Senate with strong bipartisan support. It is now before the Assembly.
While there is no official opposition at this time, there is resistance by some who argue that by asking for so much, the entire plan will fail and transfer progress will stall. Others feel that the two college systems should independently set their own benchmarks for transfer reform implementation.
As one of the dozens of organizations supporting SB 440, we reject these arguments. The goals are attainable as evidenced by the progress made in the last three years.
The chaotic process for community college students seeking to transfer must end, and our state leaders have an obligation to demand that our colleges and universities fix transfer by setting clear deadlines.
Just as students are required to complete their papers and assignments on time, we must require our colleges to put in place the degrees that will significantly improve transfer rates and prepare students for the workforce. We believe that SB 440 represents our best chance for correcting this broken system. For students struggling to navigate the transfer maze the time is now, even if it did take 50 years to get here.
Michele Siqueiros is the executive director for the Campaign for College Opportunity. In 2011, Siqueiros was appointed to the California Student Aid Commission by Gov. Jerry Brown. She lives in Los Angeles.