Capitol Alert

California’s community colleges approve transfer path to historically black schools

Representatives from the California Community Colleges system and nine historically black colleges and universities pose for a photo after signing a new transfer agreement.
Representatives from the California Community Colleges system and nine historically black colleges and universities pose for a photo after signing a new transfer agreement.

California’s community colleges reached agreements Tuesday that pave the way for students to transfer to nine historically black colleges, the first such arrangements with schools outside the state.

The agreements give California community college students who complete a transfer-focused associate’s degree guaranteed admission to schools that include Bennett College in North Carolina, Tuskegee University in Alabama and Wiley College in Texas. While California Community Colleges has long maintained transfer agreements with the California State University and University of California systems, the partnership with out-of-state private colleges is unprecedented.

“It provides a special opportunity especially for African Americans or other students of color,” said Brice Harris, California Community Colleges chancellor. “There are more people that want to complete that bachelor’s degree because increasingly, that’s what the market is demanding.”

Representatives from the nine historically black institutions praised the initiative as “truly a dream come true” during a signing event in Sacramento on Tuesday. It is the first time the black colleges and universities have reached a transfer agreement with an entire community college system.

Besides giving California community college students another path to four-year schools, the agreements can help historically black schools that have struggled to maintain enrollment in recent years as other universities have worked to diversify and black students have more education options.

California Community Colleges has 112 campuses serving 2.1 million students, making it the largest public education system in the country. Leaders from the nine colleges said they hope the California agreement serves as a model that can expand to other states.

Wiley College President Haywood Strickland said his school was attracted by the high caliber of students available in California.

“We know their track record,” he said, adding that Wiley was encouraged by the results of a transfer agreement with El Camino Community College District near Los Angeles inked two years ago.

Harris said the agreement wouldn’t affect the demand for CSU and UC schools. About 60 percent of CSU students begin their path at a community college; at UC, that number is 33 percent, he said.

The two systems in recent years have been hampered by state budget cuts that have reduced the availability of classes and increased competition for admission slots. UC officials also have added international students, who pay out-of-state tuition, to help fill budget gaps.

Last school year, 56,565 California community college students transferred to CSU. The University of California reported that 17,458 state community college students registered at its campuses last fall. An additional 14,247 California community college students transferred out-of-state in 2013-14.

The new transfer program was welcomed by many in California, including Ahkilah Harper, a Solano Community College student. Harper, 27, of Oakland now hopes to transfer to Tuskegee University to study nursing after originally considering California State University, Sacramento.

“But since this door has been opened, I definitely want to take advantage of this while I can,” she said.

Kristan Venegas, an associate professor of clinical education at the University of Southern California, said the new program is a welcome respite for California’s crowded campuses and gives African American students another option.

“We want to make sure that we keep our top talent within the state,” Venegas said. “I would be disappointed to see it as prioritized venue.”

But, she added, “it could create a new level of competition for African American students” that could prompt the UC and CSU systems to conduct more outreach.

The new transfer program gives clarity and transparency to the admissions process. In addition to an associate’s degree for transfer or a minimum of 30 transferable units, students must maintain a 2.5 GPA to qualify for guaranteed placement.

“With this being determined, this outlines specifically what they need to do,” said Tony Davis, a staff adviser for the Black Student Union at Sacramento City College. “If they’re determined to transfer, they’re going to meet that standard to achieve. There’s no gray area or misunderstanding.”

Davis described historically black schools as having a “more nurturing environment.”

“They’ll get a lot more one-on-one attention,” he said. “Where at those larger schools, they may not get that one-on-one attention to help them get where they want to go.”

The institutions typically have fewer students compared to public schools. Bennett College, for instance, is an all women’s campus with 550 students.

When freshmen arrive, they are each assigned a “big sister and little sister” to provide mentorship and counseling, said Karen Green, vice president for enrollment management at Bennett.

“That relationship goes on past graduation, to weddings, baby showers and funerals,” Green said.

Other schools participating in the new transfer agreement include Dillard University in Louisiana; Fisk University in Tennessee; Lincoln University of Missouri; Philander Smith College in Arkansas; and Stillman College and Talladega College in Alabama.

The nine colleges that the community college system signed a deal with are mostly small, and make up a fraction of the about 240,000 full-time students who attend one of the nation’s roughly 100 historically black colleges.

Total full-time enrollment at Bennett, Dillard, Fisk, Lincoln, Philander Smith, Stillman, Talladega, Tuskegee and Wiley colleges was roughly 10,700 in fall 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang. The Bee’s Phillip Reese contributed to this report.

Transfer agreement

Requirements: Associate’s degree for transfer or a minimum of 30 transferable semester units. Either path requires a minimum 2.5 grade-point average.

Participating schools: Bennett College, Dillard University, Fisk University, Lincoln University, Philander Smith College, Stillman College, Talladega College, Tuskegee University and Wiley College.