To the Maryland legislature regarding community college transfer

March 12, 2014 | Written by: Michele Siqueiros, Executive Director, Campaign for College Opportunity

Thank you for inviting me before you today.

I serve as the Executive Director of a California statewide non-profit organization, The Campaign for College Opportunity. But my favorite title is college graduate, especially because it was an improbable title for me to get. My opportunity to go to college and succeed was directly a result of good policy and investments by my state to provide me with the opportunity and financial aid.

So I’m honored to serve in my current role so that more students can have the same opportunity I have had. 10 years ago, the Campaign was co-founded by prominent civil rights, business, and higher education leaders. It was clear to us that higher education in our state needed a broad and independent coalition of advocates that could advocate for both students and the best interest of the state of California and its workforce needs.

California has long been considered a leader in higher education, as many of you know we have 112 community colleges that serve more than 2 million students, 23 California State Universities that serve almost half a million, and the University of California which serves over 180,000 undergrads. We have a history of promoting broad access to college for all students that seek the opportunity through our public colleges and universities. And this includes an expansive commitment to financial aid.

But not unlike many states, we face multiple challenges. State budget funding that has not kept pace with our growing young adult population, therefore forcing us to turn away students. Unacceptably low rates of college completion, especially among community college and California State University students, and huge disparities in college going and completion for our growing diverse population – especially amongst Latinos who next month will become the single largest ethnic group in our state. And this is happening as we experience an increasing demand for educated workers that puts us on track to fall short of the graduates we need by 2025.

So with this background, my job has been focused on sharing key data and research on where we are in higher education. Research that we strategically use to help inform policymakers and that we highlight with the media and community leaders across our state. This has helped galvanize advocates who have joined us to press for solutions to the challenges I just noted above.

And one of our priority initiatives was to fix transfer from community college to our four year universities. In the most generous scenario, only a quarter of community college students who intend to transfer in our state, ever did after six years.

And while transfer is a primary mission of our community colleges, the practice varied from college to college. And for decades there had been efforts to try and fix transfer, none of which were successful.

But in 2010, we were able to help pass historic transfer legislation.

A clear transfer pathway for students requiring 60 semester units from the Community College system to the California State University (CSU), beginning in the fall of 2011
Students completing the transfer pathway will earn an Associate Degree and guaranteed admission with junior status to the CSU system
The University of California (UC) is requested to develop a transfer Associate Degree pathway similar to the one offered by the CSU
The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office is encouraged to establish a process to facilitate the seamless acceptance of credits at multiple colleges (in case students move from one campus to another).
The principal goal was to strengthen and significantly increase the transfer process in California AND to make this the way most students transfer in California.

So today, as you assess the incredibly historic legislation that you passed in 2013 to improve higher education in Maryland, I’m here to highlight just how critical your sustained attention and leadership on oversight and implementation efforts will be.

Following passage of our own legislative effort, The Campaign focused on implementation efforts which included:

– Monitoring the statewide development of the AA degree pathways through the Independent Oversight Committee – co-chaired by community college and university system leaders that included faculty who were responsible for developing the 25 AA degree pathways currently in place.

– Attending and monitoring progress at each meeting.

– Offering recommendations

– Sharing updates with college leaders/trustees

There was amazing progress and leadership at the statewide level led by faculty at the community colleges and CSU along with the system heads. Especially in the coordination and agreement on the statewide transfer degree development process. A best practice in collaboration between the two systems that continues to be very promising.

However, there were also major impediments to full progress to meet the intent of the legislation that this become THE pathway to transfer in CA especially when we noticed huge disparities in local implementation efforts. In response, we prepared and released Meeting Compliance, But Missing the Mark. A publication before you that highlighted the good progress, but also shared the areas where insufficient progress existed, or where interpretations not consistent with ours or the legislature’s intent were clear.

Our report included:

A detailed college by college progress report on the degree offerings for transfer
A finding that because the original legislation noted that “degrees” would be offered, was interpreted as only TWO – even though there were at that time 18 possible degree options (currently there are now 25).
Our publication and the recommendations triggered legislative hearings, media attention, and resulted in a new follow up bill consisting of most of our recommendations.

Senate bill 440 included:

Benchmarks and deadlines for compliance. If a college offered a degree in a major within the 25 statewide majors being offered, they had to create an Associate of Arts for Transfer in that major and CSU’s must accept it;
Creating at least two more broad and open degrees in an areas of emphasis;
Strengthening communications about the availability of this degree pathway to students;
Establishing an admission redirection process for students who applied to a campus but didn’t get in, so they would have that guaranteed spot at another CSU campus.
This follow up bill received unanimous support in both houses, by both parties (just like the first bill) and was signed into law in 2013 in spite of full support by systemwide college leaders and with some limited formal opposition by faculty. It is clear that our state leaders expect progress, and that we must continue to provide oversight and attention on implementation to ensure that progress is delivered.

Today on average community colleges offer 9 Associate of Arts in Transfer; 38 of 112 California Community Colleges are leading the way on implementation, and another 56 have made incredible progress. Only 18 colleges still have a long way to go.

Last year more than 5,000 students earned an AA-T and were admitted to the CSU. We expect this will increase significantly.

In November 2013, the almost entirely new Assembly Higher Education Committee held a hearing on transfer progress. This sustained attention has ensured that college leaders keep pressing this effort forward.

I remain very hopeful – but as a famous politician said, “Trust, but verify.” That’s our role as advocates who care for implementation. And we will continue to verify.

You are in several ways many steps ahead. You have clear goals for increasing college completion in your state, you have identified financial aid’s role in improving a student’s ability to transfer and complete their degree, and you have put forward a deadline for implementation – all at the outset.

What I’ve learned is that the real victory is not in passing the legislation (as hard as passing good legislation can be). The real victory is ensuring that we remain committed to the reason for thinking about good legislation in the first place. The real victory is to serve students more effectively and increase college completion generally. And in order to do that, we must continue to focus on implementation.

In California, this past November we began releasing a new series of reports on the State of Higher Education that continue to make a compelling case for ensuring that we are successful on transfer. And that we strengthen this particular reform with others that can truly move the needle on expanding college opportunity and completion rates.

These reports have highlighted the challenges we face in providing greater educational opportunities and success for our growing diverse population – especially Latino and Black students. California’s “just average” performance on various measures in higher education when compared to other states and the impact of time to completion in increasing the cost of college to students and the state is unacceptable.

And I’m looking forward to sharing the good work that you have done here in Maryland when I return to my own state.

In the 1960’s California was a revolutionary leader in higher education, I’m certain with the right attention and engagement of our policy makers and our community leaders, that we will once again do a better job.

Thank you for having me here today.

About the Author:

Michele Siqueiros is the Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity.

To read her complete bio, click here. Follow her on Twitter @MSCollegeOpp

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