Rethinking the Role of Community Colleges

As more students see the two-year schools as a step toward a four-year degree, California tries to smooth the way.

HAYWARD, CA - APRIL17: Students study in the cafeteria at Chabot College on April 17, 2012 in Hayward, California. Chabot is a community college that offers job skills training and education in areas such as nursing, accounting, mechanics, and other skilled trades. Community colleges are an affordable alternative to a four year degree at a university catering to non-traditional students.
Christian Science Monitor/Getty
Sophie Quinton
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Sophie Quinton
Feb. 27, 2014, 4 p.m.

“I think this is one of the most im­port­ant is­sues that we have,” Na­tion­al Eco­nom­ic Coun­cil Dir­ect­or Gene Sper­ling said ahead of a White House high­er-edu­ca­tion and so­cial-mo­bil­ity event last month.

He wasn’t talk­ing about stu­dent loans, af­firm­at­ive ac­tion, or ca­reers in sci­ence and tech­no­logy. He was talk­ing about mak­ing it easi­er for stu­dents to trans­fer from com­munity col­leges to four-year in­sti­tu­tions.

Com­munity col­leges in re­cent years have be­come a com­mon first step to­ward a bach­el­or’s de­gree, par­tic­u­larly for low-in­come, minor­ity, and first-gen­er­a­tion col­lege stu­dents. Start­ing out at a two-year in­sti­tu­tion can be a prac­tic­al op­tion for those who don’t want, can’t af­ford, or aren’t qual­i­fied to enter a four-year uni­versity right away. But in most states, the trans­fer route is an of­ten-im­pass­ible obstacle course. De­pend­ing on which sur­vey you see, at least half — and per­haps as many as 80 per­cent — of com­munity-col­lege stu­dents hope to trans­fer to four-year in­sti­tu­tions, but only about 11 per­cent earn bach­el­or’s de­grees with­in six years, ac­cord­ing to the Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment’s Na­tion­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Stat­ist­ics.

Many states have re­cog­nized that their high­er-edu­ca­tion sys­tems haven’t caught up with the way stu­dents are us­ing them, and they are work­ing to im­prove trans­fer path­ways, but Cali­for­nia’s ef­fort will be the most con­sequen­tial: The Golden State’s sprawl­ing sys­tem serves about a quarter of all com­munity-col­lege stu­dents in the na­tion. By the end of this year, the state ex­pects to have fully im­ple­men­ted a 2010 law that re­quires com­munity col­leges to of­fer as­so­ci­ate’s de­grees that guar­an­tee gradu­ates ad­mis­sion as ju­ni­ors to a Cali­for­nia State Uni­versity cam­pus.

At first glance, Cali­for­nia doesn’t seem to need the new as­so­ci­ate’s de­grees. Former com­munity-col­lege stu­dents cur­rently ac­count for more than half of those who re­ceive bach­el­or’s de­grees from the CSU sys­tem and a quarter of those who re­ceive them from the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia. But the sys­tem’s trans­fer suc­cess rate is lower than it might be — and lower than state law­makers would like.

There isn’t a lot of hard data on Cali­for­nia com­munity-col­lege stu­dents’ edu­ca­tion­al goals, but Colleen Moore, a re­search spe­cial­ist at the In­sti­tute for High­er Edu­ca­tion Lead­er­ship and Policy at Cali­for­nia State Uni­versity (Sac­ra­mento), has looked at the is­sue. She es­tim­ates that just 23 per­cent of com­munity-col­lege stu­dents whose tran­scripts sug­ges­ted they were pur­su­ing some kind of cre­den­tial even­tu­ally trans­ferred to a four-year uni­versity. The Cali­for­nia Com­munity Col­lege sys­tem, meas­ur­ing dif­fer­ently, says about 40 per­cent of stu­dents who want to trans­fer do so, ac­cord­ing to Moore.

And al­though they are a ma­jor­ity of Cali­for­nia’s com­munity-col­lege at­tendees, His­pan­ic and Afric­an-Amer­ic­an stu­dents are less likely to trans­fer to four-year uni­versit­ies than are their white and Asi­an-Amer­ic­an coun­ter­parts.

“We have found that Latino stu­dents are about half as likely to trans­fer as white stu­dents are, out of the com­munity col­leges. And black stu­dents are less likely than white stu­dents, as well,” Moore says. In ad­di­tion, His­pan­ic and Afric­an-Amer­ic­an stu­dents who do trans­fer to four-year schools are much more likely to trans­fer to for-profit in­sti­tu­tions, where gradu­ation rates are typ­ic­ally lower.

The new de­grees are ex­pec­ted to help in a num­ber of ways.

First, they’ll cer­ti­fy that a stu­dent has com­pleted fresh­man and sopho­more course work that aligns with com­mon uni­versity ma­jors. Un­der Cali­for­nia’s old sys­tem, re­ceiv­ing in­sti­tu­tions differed in the num­ber and types of com­munity-col­lege cred­its they ac­cep­ted and the courses they re­quired for cer­tain ma­jors. Stu­dents who suc­cess­fully trans­ferred of­ten ended up re­tak­ing classes, wast­ing time and money.

The de­grees are also ex­pec­ted to help mo­tiv­ate and guide stu­dents by guar­an­tee­ing them ad­mis­sion to CSU — al­though not ne­ces­sar­ily to the cam­pus or pro­gram of their choice.

“The single most im­port­ant thing for stu­dents is the level of pre­dict­ab­il­ity,” says Cali­for­nia Com­munity Col­leges Chan­cel­lor Brice Har­ris.

Put­ting the de­grees to­geth­er has been a la­bor­i­ous pro­cess. It’s taken about three years for com­munity-col­lege and CSU fac­ulty mem­bers to come up with statewide tem­plates for 25 ma­jors, and for the schools to start of­fer­ing the ne­ces­sary classes. Last fall, the state Le­gis­lature passed a fol­low-up bill prod­ding the high­er-edu­ca­tion sys­tem to hurry up. By the end of the year, the com­munity-col­lege sys­tem plans to have rolled out the last 800 of 1,800 planned de­grees across 112 cam­puses. 

Not all com­munity col­leges will of­fer all de­gree op­tions, but the sys­tem hopes to serve as many trans­fer hope­fuls as pos­sible. So far, more than a thou­sand stu­dents have taken ad­vant­age of the de­grees.

Cali­for­nia takes its cue from Flor­ida, which since the 1970s has guar­an­teed as­so­ci­ate’s-de­gree hold­ers ad­mis­sion as ju­ni­ors to state uni­versit­ies. In Flor­ida, as in Cali­for­nia, the ma­jor­ity of high school gradu­ates who pur­sue high­er edu­ca­tion do so at a com­munity col­lege. Half of all Flor­ida as­so­ci­ate’s-de­gree hold­ers trans­fer to a state uni­versity.

The new de­grees could help ease the pres­sure on Cali­for­nia’s uni­versity sys­tem by re­du­cing the num­ber of courses stu­dents have to re­take. But if too many stu­dents take ad­vant­age of the pro­gram, giv­en Cali­for­nia’s high­er-edu­ca­tion ca­pa­city is­sues, the state could be hard-pressed to main­tain the trans­fer guar­an­tee. In the early years of the re­ces­sion, state budget cuts forced uni­versit­ies to lim­it en­roll­ment and com­munity col­leges to turn away half a mil­lion stu­dents, Har­ris says. The high­er-edu­ca­tion budget has since in­creased, but it re­mains volat­ile. 

Cau­tions Har­ris: “This … as­so­ci­ate de­gree for trans­fer sys­tem is very likely to put in­creased pres­sure on CSU, as stu­dents come out of our col­leges with those de­grees in hand and ex­pect there to be room at the inn.”

What We're Following See More »
CITES CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Lieberman Withdraws from Consideration for FBI Job
4 days ago
THE LATEST
MINIMUM 2 PERCENT GDP
Trump Tells NATO Countries To Pay Up
4 days ago
BREAKING
MANAFORT AND FLYNN
Russians Discussed Influencing Trump Through Aides
4 days ago
THE DETAILS

"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Source:
BUT WHITE HOUSE MAY USE AGAINST HIM ANYWAY
Ethics Cops Clear Mueller to Work on Trump Case
5 days ago
THE LATEST

"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."

Source:
BUSINESSES CAN’T PLEAD FIFTH
Senate Intel to Subpoena Two of Flynn’s Businesses
5 days ago
THE LATEST

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login