Percentages of California community college students who transfer to a four-year institution, a traditional signal of success, continue to be low, at less than 17% according to the most recent data, reported last week by CalMatters. The statewide transfer rate is just 9.6%.
The CalMatters analysis of transfer data shows that the state’s community college system continues to fall far short of one of its most important benchmarks: The number of students who transfer to a four-year college or university.
A review of Santa Clara County and the Bay Area Community College Transfer Rates, shows that a number of community colleges registered significant increases in transfer rates over a six-year period, according to the data developed by CalMatters, and were among the highest in the state.
Skyline College in San Bruno led the regional 2021 transfer rates, with a 14.7% rate, followed by Ohlone College with a 14.3% rate, followed by Diablo Valley in Pleasant Hill, with a 14.2% transfer rate, and the College of San Mateo, at 14.1%. Foothill College, at 14%, DeAnza College, with 13.%, and West Valley College, with 13.7% reported the highest transfer rates in Santa Clara County, according to the CalMatters data.
Gavilan College in Gilroy reported one of the significant improvements in transfer rates in the state, growing from 5.7% in 2015 to 10.3% in 2021, according to the CalMatters research.
These numbers were significantly higher than transfer rates at community college statewide, with just 9.6% transferring to four-year schools. Irvine Valley College in Southern California recorded the state’s highest transfer rate in 2021, at 16.7%.
The numbers may reflect more the decisions by the state’s colleges and universities than the health of its community colleges.
CalMatters reported that former interim Chancellor Daisy Gonzales told legislators last month that the UC and Cal State system rejected nearly 30,000 eligible community college applicants in fall 2020 — more than enough transfers to meet the community colleges system’s goal.
Gonzales wrote that there was “insufficient capacity” at the UC and Cal State campuses and asked the auditors to include equal scrutiny of those systems, since everyone is mutually responsible for coordinating successful transfers.
CalMatters looked beyond the chancellor’s office goal and analyzed the raw number of students who transferred every year, which includes but is not limited to those who transfer to a UC or Cal State.
Those numbers are reported by four-year institutions across the country and analyzed by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. Undocumented students are not counted because they lack a Social Security number. It’s the methodology that most closely aligns with the state’s funding formula, which pegs the transfer numbers to the amount of money a college receives.
CalMatters then compared those numbers to the total number of students who, upon starting community college, said they eventually wanted to get an associate degree or transfer.
Of the students enrolled in a community college in California who said they wanted to transfer to a four-year university, an average of 9.9% went on to enroll at a four-year institution in 2021, the most recent data available.
There are many reasons why students never transfer. The state’s roughly 1.8 million community college students are predominantly low-income, first-generation students of color. Many students, especially older students, must juggle work, children, and for some, even homelessness while attending school.
Why transfer still matters
To encourage colleges to meet the system’s goal of increasing transfers to a UC and Cal State, community college officials put forward a new formula that pegged a portion of a community college’s funding to its outcomes. One of those outcomes is the number of people who transfer to a four-year institution.
But Lizette Navarette, interim deputy chancellor of the community college system, told CalMatters that community colleges with low transfer rates are not getting penalized.
That’s because the new funding formula also takes into account the percentage of low-income students who meet certain benchmarks for success and the number of students who complete career-oriented programs. Navarette said rural colleges and other schools with low transfer rates have the opportunity to make up any potential gaps in state funding.
The greatest impact of low transfer rates is not on the community college but on the student, said Darla Cooper, executive director of the Research and Planning Group of the California Community Colleges, a separate nonprofit organization that is funded in part by the chancellor’s office.
“For most people of color, most people who are low-income, community college is their only way into higher ed,” she said. “Even if what they want to pursue requires a bachelor’s degree, not everyone can go straight to a university.”
Four-year colleges and universities are selective and can be expensive, she said. While some community college students can earn more with a certificate or an associate degree than those with a bachelor’s degree, she said those students are the exception, not the norm.
“Everybody wants to bring out Bill Gates,” Cooper said. “He didn’t graduate college….If you can be that, awesome, great, fantastic. But for most people, it’s beneficial for life.”
In the internal letter to the state auditors, CalMatters reported that Gonzales pointed to areas where the community college system has seen significant gains toward its 2017 goals. More students are completing their courses and gaining degrees, for instance.
In general, more students are transferring to a four-year college, according to the CalMatters analysis, which includes upticks in the number of students transferring to a UC or Cal State. But the progress remains less than third of the goal that the chancellor’s office set out to accomplish by 2022.
CalMatters reporters Adam Echelman and Erica Yee conducted the research and wrote the June 24 CalMatters story that is the basis for this article.