Letter from Washington

My name is Isa Sheikh, and this summer, I’m serving as the federal policy fellow with the Campaign for College Opportunity in the newly opened Washington, DC office. In other seasons, you can find me on Notre Dame’s campus in Indiana as a reporter and editor, research assistant and a student of history, political science, journalism and Asian studies.

I’m super excited to spend the next few months in our nation’s capital working to advance a federal conversation and agenda to address the transfer policies needed to improve student success.

As I walked past the White House on my first day at work with the Campaign, I absentmindedly stepped into a shockingly deep puddle from the previous day’s thunderstorms, miraculously not soaking my socks. Perhaps it was my first-day-of-school jitters, or the surrealism at being so close to this landmark I’d seen in movies and TV my entire life.

Contributing to my overall excitement was my enthusiasm at working with the Campaign for College Opportunity this summer. Though I just wrapped up my first year of college, I had first heard about the  organization’s work during high school. As a high school freshman in Sacramento public schools, I enrolled at Sacramento City College (SCC) as a dual enrollment student and began taking classes.

Not only did I have the opportunity to study American Sign Language, history, writing, theatre, economics, early childhood education and other subjects at SCC, I got to sit in classrooms alongside the incredibly diverse cross-section of California, including retired librarians and busy parents returning to school, as well as students a few years out of high school. Far too many of these students stalled in their aspirations to transfer.

In high school, I had the great pleasure of serving as Student Board Member for the Sacramento City Unified School District, representing more than 40,000 public school students and their interests amid the pandemic, and many other challenges. There are different, but related, obstacles in systems of higher education across this country, and I’m looking forward to researching and moving the conversation about students who do not receive the degrees that they seek.

Many of those students in Sacramento go through their K-12 education as the victims of a system that does not put their needs first and does not expose many of them to higher education options through counseling, or programs like the “Panther Pipeline” that led me to Sacramento City College.

There’s something magical about access to public higher education, and a clear pathway to a timely degree. As many of the Campaign’s reports indicate, there is still work ahead to achieve that fully. I saw this personally when my mother enrolled at Cosumnes River College (CRC) with the intentions of finally achieving her degree having left San Francisco State decades prior due to a family situation. Navigating the mess of collating credits from previous courses taken over the years at City College of San Francisco, she began to hit her stride at CRC, even winning a scholarship award.

My parents both immigrated to this country from India and worked incredibly hard throughout my entire childhood. It was always understood that education was our ladder up. Long nights when my dad was out driving taxis to put food on our table came with the implicit contract that our own futures would look different thanks to the attainment of a degree. My mom took me to campuses near us like Berkeley and Stanford so that I could see the opportunities I would one day pursue.

By the time my senior year rolled around, I was determined that I would complete an associate’s degree for transfer (completing my general education with the IGETC breadth), and apply for transfer to a University of California school. When graduation rolled around, I was only a few courses away from receiving that degree but fate had an alternative plan for me and I ended up leaving for Notre Dame. I would learn so many in my classes at Sacramento City College did not advance to the 4-year degree program that they entered college seeking, and within the few who did, most did not advance in two years.

The lessons I learned in my years at Sacramento City College stuck with me, even if I didn’t graduate there. My very first class, a one-unit Human/Career Development class called “Orientation to College” taught me critical information about the programs and systems in place in California. It showed me how to study the unit requirements for transfer, the differences between the CSU and UC systems, goal-setting and how to interact with key documents like the course catalog and different transfer paths. That class truly prepared me for college.

Unfortunately, that information is something most California community college students, and certainly most community college students across the country do not often receive. That’s just one of many obstacles in the transfer maze, and I’m excited to work on developing the conversation about how to fix these barriers on the federal level.

I later would find the entire framework I navigated as I sought an associate’s degree for transfer was created by Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2010 approval of SB 1440 (Padilla), a policy that made the path to transfer far clearer for hundreds of thousands of students like me. That work, co-sponsored by the Campaign, is an inspiration today as we look to making the transfer process easier for students nationwide.

This summer, upon finishing my first year of college, I’ve had the chance to think about the many opportunities and challenges that have defined my journey. My path to higher education was both inevitable and an anomaly and there are so many fortunate incidents that allowed me to receive the information and guidance I needed. Students across this country seeking a degree from the transfer process can’t afford to rely on luck to cut through the cacophony of conflicting and muddy bureaucratic waters so many institutions still offer.

Here’s to national transfer reform, surviving DC weather and (mostly) dry socks. Here’s to the classmates in my early morning Sac City classes who had the audacity to dream of a degree. Here’s to the promise of accessible education and economic mobility my parents saw in this country. That’s why I do what I do.

 

Gary Hart: Teacher, Mentor, & Friend

Adapted from remarks given by Executive Vice President Jessie Ryan at Gary Hart’s Celebration of Life, May 7th, 2022 at Kennedy High School

When I learned that my dear friend and mentor, Gary Hart, had requested I deliver remarks at his Celebration of Life, I was incredibly honored and then terrified because how does anyone adequately capture the essence of a giant like Gary Hart?  In the past, when faced with such a challenge, I would inevitably consult with Gary who would ask some probing questions, meticulously comb through my drafts (writing many thoughtful notes in the margins).  He would remind me that time was a commodity and to use it wisely, question my word choices, and caution me against exaggeration, “Jessie, please avoid excessive language.”

Those of you who have benefited from Gary’s exacting edits know what I am talking about and – though difficult – I will do my best to channel his feedback.

A teacher by trade, including in the halls of John F. Kennedy High School, Gary’s thoughtful reflections always made things better.  Though quite different, we were kindred spirits. We bonded over a belief in the transformative power of education and the importance of courageous, ethical leadership.

Growing-up poor and unnetworked in Sacramento, in my late twenties Gary graciously took me under his wing, opened doors, and imparted lesson after critical lesson. He taught me that:

1) Nothing worth doing was without opposition.

2) That the surest way to lose was to lose focus.

3) That I should not compromise my character or principles in the pursuit of politics.

And so much more…

I did not know it at the time, but he was preparing me to lead. Frankly, he was also ruining my standards for all politicians because between Gary’s golden example and a friendship he helped facilitate with then Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, my bar became impossibly high (I mean superhuman really).

Over the years I watched Gary devote the same energy and generosity with his time to countless other young people. He could command a room of high school students at the Capitol artfully, asking them thought provoking questions and sparking their interests. He would guest lecture and teach in low-income schools often convincing those in his network to share their experiences with PACE and CIVITAS students too. As a teacher he was completely in his element; smart, sincere, and enthusiastic which his students would come to respect and respond to.

Gary encouraged them to dream of systems change and become civically engaged. He was an equity champion and feminist ally before his time and together we would devise ways to help students find and harness their power and passions.

One such project brought Gary to the heart of Oak Park in Sacramento where for a semester Gary taught continuation school students– in our historically Black neighborhood — how to become philanthropists. At first, I think many of the students did not know what to make of the 6-foot 4-inch, older white man but over the course of several months they learned to use their lived experiences to assess community needs, solicit donations and then determine funding priorities. As the students made gifts totaling $10,000 to nonprofits they believed would support Oak Park residents, they said they felt important. They learned that they could take action to change the conditions for themselves and others.

Gary was always looking to inspire, motivate and support students to be part of societal change.

 

Executive Vice President Jessie Ryan, Gary K. Hart, and President Michele Siqueiros at the opening of our Sacramento Office

 

He was also a firm believer that low-income students deserved access to history, music, and arts just like their more resourced peers. He proudly joined students for a screening of Hamilton in San Francisco. He took students to watch the Opera in Sacramento, and when he saw a documentary about the remarkable life of Latina Rock Star Linda Ronstadt (who he had met and admired), he secured the rights to the film and screened it for free with Sac City students and families across the district as part of Women’s History Month (sitting in the audience unassumingly).

There were many ways a man of Gary’s import could choose to spend his precious time but this former State Senator chose to pour into young people and without fanfare or headlines.  This was simply what he loved to do.

I will never forget calling Gary after a recent hospitalization, expecting he would need some cheering up. I was wrong.  It turns out he was delighted to find out that one of his former students was his nurse, recognized him right away, devotedly attended to him, and shared how much Senator Hart the teacher had meant to her as a struggling teen.  But of course, after a lifetime of teaching this happened frequently to Gary. He attracted good people because he was among the very best of men.

When I asked Gary, towards the end of his life, about his proudest accomplishment, achievement, legacy he choked up a little sharing that it was his intelligent daughters (Elissa, Laura, and Katherine), his extraordinary wife (Cary), his staff that said, “they never had to be ashamed of Gary Hart”,  his deep friendships (an impressive collection, many in this room today), and the students he taught to reach for the best versions of themselves.

My friend and mentor, the man who became the closest thing to a father I have ever known, also taught me a final profound life lesson.

He taught me that our legacy is not so much about WHAT we achieve, it is about WHO we choose to love and invest our time in as well as the people who choose to do the same for us.

It has been said your legacy should be measured by how many hearts you have touched and the generations you have prepared for the work ahead. Gary Hart’s legacy is a great one indeed and what a blessing this wickedly smart, incredibly compassionate, lifelong educator is to each of us fortunate enough to call him our father, husband, teacher, mentor, and friend.

 

Remembering Gary Hart

Gary celebrating our 10th Anniversary with us in Sacramento

 Gary, former Senate Pro Tem Leader and current Mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg, and Jessie at our 10th Anniversary event

Women in Higher Education: The Power of Policy

President of The Campaign for College Opportunity, a California organization engaged in supporting common sense reforms to the state’s higher education system, Michele Siqueiros is determined to see more students complete their college educations. The first in her family to graduate college, she works to expand access and student success by bringing attention to the challenges facing students of color, low-income students and first-generation students.

In March, the Campaign for College Opportunity was integral in the introduction of Assembly Bill 928, the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act of 2021, which proposes to make the transfer process from two-year to four-year institutions clear by creating consistent and readily understandable pathways.

“Students everywhere deserve a clear path to transfer,” says Siqueiros. “Most students who start at a community college want to transfer to a four-year university, and they shouldn’t need an advanced degree to get to transfer. That’s how complicated transfer continues to be.”

“It’s unnecessary for us to have these hurdles in place that don’t make the process work for students,” she adds. “If we want to ensure access to college, if we want to improve practice in terms of pushing for the reforms [that] we believe are necessary and if we want to truly close the racial equity gaps that persist in higher ed, we will need to work at [policy reform] for the long haul.”

Mobilization and Implementation
There are 116 community colleges in the state of California. A decade ago, the Campaign for College Opportunity played a vital role in the passage and implementation of the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT), which guarantees priority admission to a California State University (CSU) institution for community college students who meet a minimum eligibility requirement. It streamlines the process so that students don’t take unnecessary credits. As of October 2020, the more than 280,000 students that have earned an ADT accrued six fewer credit units on average, leading to millions of dollars in savings in the 2018–2019 academic year alone.

In getting the ADT passed, the Campaign for College Opportunity mobilized a broad base of support among civil rights, education and business leaders to endorse the legislation, as well as student groups throughout California. the Campaign for College Opportunity has monitored implementation through research and analysis. Siqueiros notes how crucial data analysis is, pushing for the disaggregation of data, highlighting inequities and showing how some policies exacerbate inequities.

Despite the proven success of ADT, transfer rates from two-year to four-year institutions remain low. That is why the Campaign is advocating for AB 928, which would make the CSU and University of California (UC) systems work together to develop a singular general education transfer pathway.

“To ensure that there’s improvement and strengthening of transfer in California, including calling for an intersegmental implementation committee that would be composed of our community colleges, Cal State and UC leaders,” says Siqueiros.

The Campaign for College Opportunity’s Purpose
To support the policies and practices for which the Campaign advocates, they frequently engage the media, including writing op/eds. Siqueiros shares her own story. Having mentors who believed in her ability to go to college and guided her through the process proved integral to her success.

Teachers and college students visiting her high school helped her understand how to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and apply to college. Siqueiros received federally subsidized loans and grants.

“Also, the support at my college (Pitzer College CA) once I enrolled as a first-gen student…allowed me to see myself as being able to complete really rigorous work,” says Siqueiros.

She witnessed others of her generation not getting the information or needed support, and that continues. “We hear from students all the time that they don’t believe they can go, or they don’t even know there’s financial aid available,” Siqueiros says. “The pandemic has further exacerbated this.”

Siqueiros was the second hire after the Campaign’s founding, joining as associate director in 2004. Prior to that she worked for the City of Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, helped co-found Public Allies- Los Angeles and worked for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. She became president in 2008. Under her presidency, the Campaign has advocated for increased access to Pell grants, protected Cal grant funding and supported undocumented students, in addition to reforming community college pathways.

Propelling College Success
“We want students to be persistent and work hard, but we should also ensure that the systems are doing the same thing,” says Siqueiros. “I’m involved in advocacy because I’m really passionate about this issue. I feel in many ways that I was very lucky. We shouldn’t have to rely on luck.”

A lot of the policies and practices do not serve the best interest of students, she says. The remedial course failure rate is high, and it frustrates Siqueiros that institutions accept that and don’t question the effectiveness.

“By eliminating remedial ed courses in community colleges, we’re seeing huge positive effects, especially for Black and Latinx students,” says Siqueiros, noting 50% to 70% pass rates of college-level math and English by students who would have been put in these remedial courses.

Siqueiros notes that racial equity is a big issue, citing inequality in college preparation, attendance and success. Although her focus is on California, she is certainly pleased if her policy work has national impact.

“We know those challenges are not unique to our state,” she says. “We hope as we advance and champion some of these reforms to see them expanded across other states. We’re also always in learning mode. We’re very interested in what other states are doing that we should be thinking about doing in California.”

“The future of our state will depend on our ability to ensure that we close those gaps that persist in our education system,” she continues. “We will continue to persist on implementation of reforms so that the vision and dream that we have of creating a clear transfer path for students and eliminating unnecessary obstacles like remedial education course requirements—that we see those through to fruition.” Download the article

Health Professions: Associate Degrees for Transfer in Health Majors at the Community Colleges and California State University System

The need for health professionals across the nation and in California is on the rise, and demand for health professionals is projected to rise considerably in the near future. In 2019, California was short 240,000 nurses, and that was before COVID-19 put our healthcare system under greater strain than it has ever seen. Without bold action, the demand for health professionals and healthcare workers will not be met.

Moreover, there is a disproportionate need for diverse health professionals, especially for health professionals from racially and ethnically minoritized communities in California. Today Latinx Californians account for 39.4% of the state’s population, but just 5% of our healthcare professionals are Latinx. A more diverse workforce would better represent the state’s patient population and improve healthcare quality, access, and patient care. For example, one study showed the mortality rate for Black infants was cut in half when they were cared for by Black doctors during initial hospital stays.

The California Community Colleges (CCC) are ground zero when it comes to training the next generation of health professionals and supporting students to transfer to universities for bachelor’s and advanced health degrees. Over the past 5 years, the CCC has awarded 57,333 health associate degrees and 7,555 of them have been Associate Degrees for Transfer (ADTs), a transfer pathway which guarantees admission to the California State University system. In 2019-20 alone, the CCC awarded 12,796 total associate degrees in health, 2,194 of which were ADTs.

The Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) is one of the best tools California has to address the high demand for diverse health care professionals. The transfer process in California remains elusive for far too many students, but the ADT – with its streamlined pathway and guarantee of admission with automatic junior standing to the California State University (CSU) system – can fast track students toward a bachelor’s degree in health fields.

Community Colleges: ADT Earners who Majored in Health

Students pursuing health professions at the California Community Colleges have three options for an ADT award: Nutrition and Dietetics, Public Health Science, and Kinesiology. In 2018-19, Clovis Community College (in Fresno, CA), Columbia College (in Sonora, CA), and Cabrillo Community College (in Santa Cruz, CA) awarded the highest number of health Associate Degrees for Transfer per full-time equivalent students (FTEs).

1,854 students earned an ADT in a health field from the CCC system in the 2018-19 academic year. To put this number in perspective, the CCC awarded 58,811 Associate Degree for Transfer awards in 2018-19 and 3.15% were in a health major. In the 2019-20 academic year, this number was 3.17% (2,114/66,649). From 2017-18 to 2018-19, the number of ADTs in health grew by 384 awards. The latest numbers suggest that out of all Associate Degrees in the Arts (AA) and Associate Degrees in the Sciences (AS) awarded, about 26% of them were in health majors.

The top three community colleges that are performing above and beyond are Clovis Community College, Columbia College, and Cabrillo Community College. These colleges award the highest number of health ADTs per full-time equivalent students (FTEs). These colleges are leading the way for students interested in health and in transferring to a college/university.

Another way to measure success is by tracking improvement over time. The community colleges with the most growth in health Associate Degrees for Transfer (from 2017-18 to 2018-19) are College of the Canyons, Fresno City College, and Long Beach City College (see Table 1).

It is important to note that in 2018-19, only 37 community colleges accounted for over 70% of the Health Associate Degree for Transfer awards. Some campuses may be struggling to institutionally support students interested in health and in transferring to the CSU system.

Ninety-eight California Community Colleges offer Kinesiology ADTs, 26 California community colleges offer Public Health Science ADTs, and 45 California community colleges offer Nutrition and Dietetics ADTs.

CSU Health ADTs

Another way to gain insights about the transfer pathways of students interested in health is to look at transfer students in the CSU system. In the Fall of 2019, 3,318 incoming transfer students had a health major (compared with 3,070 in Fall 2018). CSUs with the highest number of health major transfers in the Fall of 2019 were Northridge, Fullerton, and San Diego State.

Associate Degree for Transfer earners represent a small share of transfer students who enter the CSU system. For instance, 44 of the 426 (10.33%) incoming transfer students in health majors had earned an Associate Degree for Transfer at CSU Northridge in the Fall of 2019. This number is 23 of 333 at CSU Fullerton (6.91%). Table 2 shows these numbers for each CSU in 2018 and 2019.

Most CSU transfer students with a health major do not have an Associate Degree for Transfer, likely because there are only three available ADTs in the health professions compared to a number of majors at the CSU for which the ADTs do not align. Much work can be done to expand the number of ADTs in the health professions at the community college level while urging the CSU to match the current ADTs to the widest possible array of existing CSU majors in the health professions.

Figure 1 shows the breakdown of transfer pathways in CSU Fall 2019 incoming transfers. This figure shows data for the top 10 majors and the percent of incoming students who earned an ADT, an AA/AS, or no degree before transferring. Notably, health professions and related programs had the lowest percent of students with an ADT (with a guarantee) and an ADT (without a guarantee). Among the 23 CSUs, 21 have a kinesiology major, 14 have a nutrition major, 16 have a public health or related major, and 19 have a nursing major. Clearly, more can be done to strengthen transfer pathways in one of the most in-demand fields.

California has a high and urgent need for health professionals from diverse backgrounds. Community colleges represent an accessible and affordable entryway into higher education for low-income students from racial/ethnic minority backgrounds who are interested in health careers. The California State University system awarded 7,871 bachelor’s degrees in health professions in the 2019-2020 academic year. In the past five years, the CSU has awarded 38,791 bachelor’s degrees in the health professions. The California Community College and California State University have been leading way in training health professionals in California. Strengthening transfer pathways, especially the Associate Degree for Transfer pathway by expanding the availability of health ADTs in community colleges, can help California meet the demand for a diverse healthcare workforce.

Josefina's Headshot
Josefina Flores Morales
Research Fellow

AB 928 and Transforming Transfer for California Students

On March 18th, in partnership with the Campaign for College Opportunity, I introduced AB 928, the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act of 2021. This comprehensive student-centered legislation will streamline and improve the transfer process, making it easier for California students to accomplish their goal of earning a bachelor’s degree.

The 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education promised an accessible, affordable, and high quality higher education for California students. The transfer pathway, from community college to four-year institution, is an essential component of the Master Plan’s commitment to access and affordability. The majority of students attend community college with the hope of transferring to complete a bachelor’s degree.

As Chair of the Select Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education, I have focused on the issue of transfer and convened a conversation centered on the student transfer experience. The message from students was loud and clear: the transfer process is too complex, confusing, and difficult to navigate.

Transfer is often seen as a maze, a journey which ends up costing students more time and money than needed to reach the next step in their higher education journey. At a time of significant financial pressure brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for lower and middle-income students, ensuring that more students can transfer and obtain a bachelor’s degree is a critical piece to California’s recovery. To ensure recovery with equity, AB 928 draws on the state’s commitment to racial equity by supporting underserved student populations who often face unnecessary obstacles on their path to a bachelor’s degree.

Key legislative efforts, such as the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT), have laid the groundwork for streamlining transfer, supporting thousands of students to transfer in a more timely and cost-saving manner, and guaranteeing admission to the California State University (CSU). In listening to students’ transfer stories and in talking with California’s higher education leaders, the need for continued improvements in transfer became an urgent call to action. Students continue to report confusion with transfer requirements, excess unit accumulation, and inequitable support in accessing the ADT. AB 928 addresses these issues head-on and reimagines the transfer process from the student perspective.

AB 928 would transform the transfer process by:

    1. Creating an Intersegmental Implementation Committee to provide a permanent venue to facilitate intersegmental coordination, greater state-level accountability for ADT implementation, and focus on improving transfer outcomes for all students.
    2. Setting a target date for the CSU and UC to come together and establish a singular lower division general education pathway that meets transfer admission to both. Going from two general education pathways to one makes it easier for students to apply to both CSU and UC and keeps their options open.
    3. Requiring community college students be placed on an ADT pathway, where one exists for their major, which will maximize the probability that a student will transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree in a timely manner. Importantly, students can opt-out and are empowered to choose what is best for them and their educational goals.

The status quo is failing our students. Only 28 percent of students with a transfer goal successfully transfer within six years. This is shocking and unacceptable. Students deserve better, and California can do better. I urge you to join students, higher education leaders, and advocates across the state in this effort to transform transfer.

Join the conversation on Twitter with #TransformingTransfer, or use the toolkit below in support of AB 928.

Download the toolkit


Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-24)
Author of Assembly Bill 928