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

Upcoming Publication: The Possibility Report – From Prison to College Degrees in California.

“Coming out of prison, I was indigent, and I had to rely on the various social service agencies for housing and practically everything else. Every housing program that could offer me a place to stay considered it problematic that my intention was to be enrolled full-time in college. Every program administrator I met with during that transitional period – including my assigned parole agent – attempted to discourage me altogether from continuing to pursue an education. Every program or agency I sought assistance from distinctly frowned upon my stated plan of working toward a university degree.”
– Tim, UC student

California’s criminal justice and education policies have cemented a school-to-prison pipeline that has impacted far too many historically marginalized communities of color, particularly Black and Latinx men. The state has a responsibility—if it is serious about tackling racial injustice—to dismantle that system. Ensuring that incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people can access and succeed in higher education is one way the state can step up to end the school-to-prison pipeline.
Today, there are nearly one-quarter million individuals incarcerated in federal, state, and local institutions in California. More than 95% of incarcerated people will eventually come home one day, as evidenced by the nearly half a million people on parole/probation today. Ensuring college opportunity means that hundreds of thousands of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals will have greater employment opportunities, lower recidivism rates, greater social mobility, and the transformation and empowerment of individuals, their families and communities that comes from a college degree.
In February 2021, the Campaign for College Opportunity will release a new research brief titled, The Possibility Report: From Prison to College Degrees in California. The brief will include descriptive demographics of California’s incarcerated and paroled populations, a landscape analysis of the policies that make college-going opportunities available for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students, and an inventory or programs offered by the state’s colleges and universities. Most importantly, the brief includes the voices of formerly incarcerated students from all three of California’s public higher education system segments—the University of California (UC), the California State University (CS), and the California Community Colleges—describing the barriers students encounter in pursuing a college degree. Finally, a series of recommendations for campuses and the state are presented to address the systemic barriers in California’s education system and create more opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students to improve their lives and California’s economic health.
I had the distinct honor of facilitating the three virtual regionally, racially, and gender diverse focus groups that informed our brief. With a healthy cross-section of students representing the California Community Colleges, UC, and CSU, we focused our time together on the following two questions: How do formerly incarcerated students experience their transition from incarceration to California’s public colleges and universities? What barriers and opportunities are formerly incarcerated students encountering in California’s public colleges and universities?
What we learned is that regardless of when or where a formerly incarcerated student attended college, common experiences emerged that present serious challenges to higher education persistence and success. The following five findings from our focus groups must be addressed by California’s higher education system and criminal justice system if the state is serious about breaking the school-to-prison pipeline and strengthening the state’s economic health by increasing degree attainment for hundreds of thousands of individuals:

  1. The parole and probation systems in California do not prioritize higher education and often prevent formerly incarcerated Californians from achieving their educational goals.
  2. Requirements to access housing leave formerly incarcerated Californians with unstable living situations, creating an environment inconducive to going to or staying in college.
  3. Formerly incarcerated students straddle two employment problems: Finding work and balancing the need to work with attending school.
  4. Targeted student support services are key to college retention but are inconsistent across campuses, and in some instances, the responsibility to create relevant support services falls on formerly incarcerated students themselves.
  5. Campus advisors lack the specific knowledge and understanding to properly advise students with criminal records on career opportunities.

When the report is released, I urge you to read what we learned from these brave students and take action, from wherever you stand, on the policy recommendations we put forward. Like all qualified students, currently and formerly incarcerated students deserve access and support to go to college, persist, and graduate.

If 2020 was a re-awakening from the historical legacy of racial injustice in the United States, 2021 needs to be a year of concrete action. This new year brings opportunities via budget allocations and policy recommendations that can improve the quality of life for currently and formerly incarcerated people, their families, and their communities in California.

“In 2016 when I started [college], I felt out of place, alone. Nobody wanted to sit next to me, I was the oldest one in the classroom. I was kind of out of place. So, I asked my teacher, this woman that literally changed my life. I asked her where the parolees at? And she goes, ‘I don’t know. Let me find out.’ We managed to find somebody that could get the parolees together. And I managed to start a club.”
– California Community College student

Danny Murillo
Danny Murillo
Author, The Possibility Report
Co-Founder, Underground Scholars
Former Program Analyst, Campaign for College Opportunity

Virtual Event: Voices of Freedom

Join us and the California Community College Rising Scholars Network for “Voices of Freedom” to hear from currently and formerly incarcerated students and their stories of resilience on their pathway to a college degree. Danny Murillo will also join to present the findings of this report.


Community college leaders urge voters: vote YES on Prop 16

Pamela Haynes
Cassandra Jennings

The California Community Colleges Board of Governors voted recently to endorse Proposition 16 on the November ballot, doing so unanimously and with clear understanding of what it means to create more equitable opportunities for all people. This endorsement is a critical step toward achieving long-sought equity in higher education, especially for people of color.

But such clarity is not seen by all. In fact, there is a great deal of confusion – dare we say, denial – around exactly how the necessary passage of Prop. 16 would help correct years of inequitable practices and historic injustices this country was built around:

Didn’t we erase inequality in California when we banned consideration of race, sex and ethnicity in 1996? No. Will there be quotas in college admissions? No; quotas have been illegal since 1978. Will this ultimately help improve student outcomes and access to social and economic opportunities? A resounding yes.

In this era of social unrest due to racism and the outcry over the murder of George Floyd, many lessons continue to be learned, a primary one among them is we have a chance to get it right. We can start right here in California with measures that consciously promote programs, initiatives and policies that embrace community and inclusion.

Prop. 16 will repeal, Prop. 209, that began misfiring when it went into effect in 1996, making California one of only eight states in the U.S. that disallows consideration of race or gender in decisions on hiring or accepting students into public higher education institutions. We have backslid ever since, and equity in higher education has suffered greatly.

Within the community colleges system, which doesn’t have admissions restrictions, 73 percent of our 2.1 million student population are students of color, immigrants or both. Compared to their white counterparts, Black and Latinx students have low transfer and completion rates because the means to support them don’t exist in the way they should.

The reasons why we need to open paths to opportunity seem obvious. Blacks have below-average health outcomes directly due to a lack of equal opportunity; three percent of physicians in California are Black even though they comprise six percent of the population; expanding access through equal opportunity initiatives and investment will pave the way for young Blacks to potentially become physicians and researchers.

Prop. 209 put 30 years of affirmative action on ice in California in 1996, prohibiting consideration of race, sex and ethnicity in admission to public employment, public education and public contracting. The argument for that move was to eliminate such consideration in the interest of equality.

But, it didn’t work. Prop. 209 hindered equality by deterring higher education systems like the California Community Colleges, University of California and California State University from implementing race-conscious programs, such as those designed to ensure equitable access.

Prop. 16 would begin to correct and repair the damage done by perpetual discriminatory practices and policies. In higher education, Prop. 16 would have the effect of reinstating affirmative action to permit colleges and universities to implement race-conscious strategies to communities of color in terms of student recruitment, counseling, and other supports, as well as hiring of administrators and faculty.

The treatment of countless other people of color gives new urgency to this correction for California. Prop. 209 has actually reduced the percentages of underrepresented students admitted to public higher education institutions in our state, it is in direct conflict with our community college Vision for Success and efforts to close equity gaps.

Transfer and completion rates are startling. The fact is, UC and CSU students are our students at community colleges, too. If our students of color are provided with important race-conscious programs to encourage enrollment and transfer so they can complete a degree, their transition to a four-year institution will be smoother. Even though community colleges do not have admissions requirements and accept the top 100 percent of students, a holistic approach that includes race-conscious policies across all levels of the higher education journey is imperative.

It’s time to do so and it is right in line with the California Community Colleges recent Call to Action, urging system leaders, faculty, staff and students to join together to fight systemic racism within higher education. Such CCC programs, bolstered by the passage of Prop. 16, would include much-needed targeted recruitment and enhanced outreach to communities of color.

Another impact of Prop. 16 will be the increased hiring of faculty and leadership of color. It is empirically proven that decreasing racial and gender gaps among our instructors and administrators will improve student outcomes. Seeing yourself in those you are being guided by is vital and can be achieved with diversity, equity and inclusion.

Our social unrest demands we do things better. The economic uncertainty in these strange pandemic times has led us to where we are today. We need not be uncertain or confused at all about equity. Characteristics of our humanity, our race, gender, ethnicity and more make us who we are. Why would we not consider the whole person as we work toward an equitable coexistence in this land of opportunity?

by Pamela Haynes, Vice President of the California Community Colleges Board of Gorvenors,
and Cassandra Jennings, President and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League and Co-Chair of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Black and African American Advisory Panel