A new program at California community colleges could put students on the fast track to earning a bachelor’s degree, while saving them — and the state — some money.
A transfer-degree program started this semester gives community college students a simpler, quicker way to transfer to California State University schools.
Community colleges have welcomed the program, which was borne out of a collaboration with the CSU and state lawmakers.
But some faculty and administrators say they’re skeptical that it will work as well as state officials claim.
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State and community college officials say the program could save the state millions, and help students finish college and get into the workforce more quickly.
Students who complete the two-year program will be eligible for admission into any CSU school in the state to finish their bachelor’s degree — and all of their classes will transfer.
But the program won’t be popular enough to save the state much money, some college faculty say. And the CSUs, which are facing severe budget cuts, can’t guarantee spots for all transfer students — which could leave some students with an associate degree that’s not worth much to employers.
The program was created last year by Senate Bill 1440, which required that community colleges offer at least two transfer-degree programs starting this fall.
After scrambling last spring and summer, almost half of the state’s 112 community colleges launched programs this month in psychology, sociology, math, communications or justice administration.
Some colleges eventually could offer as many as 30 programs, said Linda Michalowski, vice chancellor for student services and special programs in the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
The program eliminates some of the messy and “wildly” inconsistent transfer rules that often forced students to repeat classes, slowing their graduation, said Scott Lay, president of the Community College League of California, a nonprofit that studies community colleges and advocates new policies. Under the program, students will take 60 units at a community college and then enroll in any of the CSUs as a junior.
CSUs require 120 units for a four-year degree. Students save some money by avoiding unnecessary classes. The program would give students a direct path to a degree and weed out the extra classes students often take that don’t count toward their majors, Michalowski said.
The program also could save the state up to $160 million by moving students through college more quickly. According to an analysis by Sen. Alex Padilla’s office, the program will open spots for about 14,000 more transfer students at CSU and about 40,000 more students at community colleges. Padilla, D-Los Angeles, sponsored the bill.
But for the state to see any substantial savings, a lot of students must enroll in the program — and that may not be realistic, said Pam Gilmore, curriculum chair at Reedley College.
“Faculty don’t see a lot of students doing the transfer-degree program,” she said.
Because the program is new, most students don’t know about it, and colleges haven’t had time to advertise it. Many colleges still are setting up the programs.
Gilmore is concerned that students might not be interested. Many who enter community college knowing they want to transfer to CSU schools are eager to do so as soon as possible — often after a year or less — and won’t want to wait to finish the two-year degree.
There’s a “big motivator” for students to stick out the two-year program, said Todd Martinez, chair of the psychology department at Fresno City College. Students with the degree will get priority over other transfer students who apply to CSU.
With competition fierce at the CSUs — Fresno State, for example, receives 15,000 to 20,000 transfer applications every fall — the degree could give students an advantage.
The new program doesn’t cost the state anything. Like many community colleges, Reedley and Fresno already offered most of the classes for the new programs and didn’t have to hire new teachers. Reedley’s transfer programs are communications, math and psychology. Fresno launched programs in psychology and sociology, and will offer programs in communications and math before the end of the year.
However, smaller schools have struggled, and many were unable to create new programs with such a tight time frame.
Community college officials relaxed the rules somewhat, asking that all colleges have degree programs ready in the next year and a half, Michalowski said.
Midyear budget cuts — which would slash $30 million from the community colleges if the state doesn’t meet revenue projections — could threaten the programs, Reedley College President Mitjl Capet said.