UC's new plan to simplify transferring could have opposite impact, critics say

Visitors walk by the Benjamin Ide Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley, Calif., on July 21, 2021. (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News)

Responding to pressure to simplify the transfer process, the University of California is proposing a new pathway that would guarantee admission to California community college students who meet certain criteria.

But UC's idea, unveiled Tuesday at a state Assembly hearing, already faces criticism from lawmakers and college access advocates who fear the proposal will only make transferring more confusing for students.

Under the proposal, students who take lower division general education courses and a set of courses specific to their major would be guaranteed admission to UC as long as they earn a minimum grade point average determined by faculty. Students wouldn't necessarily be guaranteed a spot at the campus of their choice. If they're not accepted to their preferred campus, they would be redirected to Merced, Riverside or Santa Cruz.

Annually, as many as 20,000 students transfer from a community college to UC. UC intends to increase that number in the coming years, as the system has a goal of enrolling 1 community college transfer for every 2 first-year undergraduates. Community college students also make up a key group at the state's 23-campus California State University system, where about 46,300 new California community college transfers enrolled this past fall.

 "We believe the new general education course pattern and UC transfer pathway combination places transfer students in the best position to succeed at the University of California," said Han Mi Yoon-Wu, UC's executive director of undergraduate admissions, during the hearing of the Assembly's budget subcommittee on education finance.

State lawmakers, though, are not completely satisfied with UC's proposal. Legislators including Assemblymember Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, have pushed UC to participate in the Associate Degree for Transfer, which currently allows students to get a guaranteed spot somewhere in CSU if they finish an associate degree at a community college and meet CSU's minimum eligibility requirements.

The number of students transferring to CSU has grown by more than 50% since the law creating the ADT was passed in 2010. Students on an ADT pathway also graduate faster and at greater rates than their peers.

Berman said in a statement to EdSource that UC "adding a brand new, separate transfer pathway" would run counter to the Legislature's goal of streamlining the transfer process. Berman authored Assembly Bill 928, legislation passed in 2021 that created a new statewide committee and charged it with making recommendations for improving the transfer process.

"The Associate Degree for Transfer already guarantees admission to the CSU system. If the goal is to simplify the process and have it be more focused on the student perspective, wouldn't it make more sense for a UC systemwide guarantee to be built around the existing Associate Degree for Transfer with reasonable modifications? I look forward to learning more details and strongly encourage any changes to be student-centered first and foremost," Berman added.

Another lawmaker, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, agrees. McCarty chairs the Assembly's subcommittee on education finance and recently introduced legislation, Assembly Bill 1749, that would require UC to develop an admission guarantee similar to the ADT.

McCarty said in an interview Wednesday that UC's latest proposal "is positive news because we're going in the right direction" but added that it's still not exactly what he and other lawmakers are looking for.

"It's kind of like three steps forward, two steps back," McCarty said.

In a statement to EdSource, UC made clear that its latest proposal isn't finalized.

"It is important to note that what was discussed during the State Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance will be further refined in consultation with the Governor and state legislative leaders as we consider a range of options to meet our shared goal of achieving a more accessible transfer pathway for prospective UC students," a UC spokesperson said.

UC's systemwide president, Michael Drake, said at a board of regents meeting earlier this year that the ADT might not make sense for UC. He cited UC's "range of majors" and said that, because of the differences between UC and CSU, the transfer system that works for CSU "doesn't apply to us."

If the proposal described at Tuesday's hearing is implemented, students would take a common set of lower-division general education courses required by both UC and CSU. But they would also be required to take lower-division courses specific to their UC major -- classes that are often different from those required for students in the same major pursuing an ADT.

Proponents of a simpler transfer process say it would be easier on students if UC participated in the ADT because then students in any given major would only need to take one set of lower-division courses to meet eligibility requirements across all CSU or UC campuses.

Those proponents include Jessie Ryan, the executive vice president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, a college access group that has advocated for UC to participate in the ADT. Ryan is also a member of the Associate Degree for Transfer Intersegmental Implementation Committee, which was established by AB 928 with a charge of coming up with recommendations for improving the transfer process.

That committee includes a representative from UC's central president's office. But Ryan said that in the committee's three meetings since last fall, UC's latest proposal for a new transfer pathway had not come up. Ryan was thus taken by surprise when Yoon-Wu, the UC official, announced the proposal at Tuesday's hearing.

Ryan also said she's concerned that adding a new pathway on top of existing transfer pathways will just make the transfer process more confusing. Six of UC's nine undergraduate campuses already have transfer admission guarantees, but those are far from streamlined. They are limited to certain majors and have varying grade point average requirements. UC also recently introduced a new initiative called Pathways+ that attempts to help community college students map out the classes they need to take to be eligible for transfer.

"I have had the benefit of doing this work to simplify the transfer system for more than a decade. I have seen multiple efforts from the UC to create UC transfer pathways, versus adopting the Associate Degree for Transfer," Ryan said. "And I would argue that layering pathway upon pathway does not demystify an overly complicated system. It makes it even more complex."

Whether UC will move forward with its proposal or be forced to adopt the ADT could become clear over the next few months during state budget negotiations. The Legislative Analyst's Office, a nonpartisan arm of the Legislature that provides fiscal and policy advice, has urged lawmakers to consider requiring UC to participate in the ADT.

McCarty said that, one way or another, they need to come up with "a seamless path" for community college students.

"It's positive news that we are talking about this issue," he said. "But we all need to get on the same page and have a simplified, universal community college transfer process."