Helping Fresno students get into universities faster would boost graduations, report says - The Fresno Bee

Monday, July 12, 2021

Getting more California students to graduate with associate degrees for transfer could be the key to ensuring they finish their undergraduate education, according to a new report by the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Although California Community College students in Fresno County are among the most likely in the state to earn an ADT before moving on to a university, students are still taking too many credits, and taking too long to graduate, according to the report.

A new bill authored by Assemblymember Marc Berman seeks to streamline the process, which could help more students in the Fresno-area, where high levels of poverty make it more difficult for students to finish school.

“Too many community college students hoping to find an affordable and achievable pathway to a four-year university instead are confronted with a maze of pathways and requirements that create confusion, lead to unnecessary unit accumulation, and too often lead to students dropping out before obtaining a degree,” Berman, D-Palo Alto, said in a news release. He is also the chair of the Assembly Select Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education in California.

“AB 928 will help streamline and improve the transfer process, making it easier for California students to accomplish their educational goals,” he continued. “Now more than ever, it is critical to increase degree attainment, improve time to degree, and close racial equity gaps.”

WHAT’S AN ADT?

The associate degree for transfer was created after a 2010 senate bill was supposed to create a clear pathway for students to transfer from a community college to a university. Although not every major includes an ADT option, and the options vary by college, many of the most popular majors do, such as business and psychology.

An ADT guarantees admission to a California State University campus with junior standing and ensures students earn an associate degree before transferring.

Students earning an ADT, in theory, spend two years at a community college and two years at a university to earn a bachelor’s degree. ADTs are also supposed to make it easier to transfer to the University of California, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and some private or independent colleges.

Over 285,000 ADTs have been awarded since the legislation was passed, and the number of students earning an ADT has risen steadily every year, the report found.

ADTS IN THE CENTRAL VALLEY

At State Center Community College District, 1,044 students earned an ADT in the 2015-2016 school year, according to district data. In the 2019-2020 year, the number was 2,002. State Center is the parent district to Fresno City College, Reedley College, and Madera and Clovis Community Colleges.

About 57% of all degrees awarded at Clovis Community College are ADTs, according to data from the chancellor’s office. Fresno City College and Reedley College awards 53% of its students with ADTs, and Merced Community College is close behind at 51%. The colleges are among the 12 out of the state’s 116 community colleges that award more ADTs than traditional associate degrees.

The highest on the list was Berkeley City College at 66%, and the college with the fewest ADT earners is Coastline Community, at 6%. Several smaller colleges in the Central Valley are low on the list, such as College of the Sequoias at 40%, Porterville College, 32%, West Hills Lemoore, 30%, and West Hills Coalinga, 28%.

THE PROBLEM WITH ADTS

According to the report, if ADTs were 80% of all associate degrees earned, the state would save $11.5 million a year in tuition fees that are covered by the California College Promise, which pays for a student’s first two years at a community college. That’s because ADT earners graduate with about 6.5 fewer excess credits than associate degree earners, the report found.

However, ADT earners are still taking many more classes on average than they need to graduate. The average ADT earner is still transferring with 84 credits, despite a typical degree only requiring 60.

Although the University of California has worked to align transfer coursework over the years to match the CSU, requirements still differ. Students risk taking more classes than needed if they don’t choose a path early in their academic careers.

The new bill introduced by Berman intends to directly align CSU and UC transfer coursework for students earning an ADT and aims to curb excess credits. This could lead to students graduating faster.

“The transfer process is still unnecessarily complex, confusing, and difficult for the vast majority of students to navigate,” the bill language for AB 928 reads.

After six years at a community college, still, only 40% of transfer-seeking students transfer out, according to California Community College data.

The report also notes that more Latinx students are earning ADTs than any other race or ethnicity, but Black and Native American students have not reached equity among ADT earners.

AB 928 could also help close those equity gaps, as transfer students are more likely to be Black, as well as first-generation students.

The Campaign for College Opportunity, the nonprofit which authored the report, called on state and educational leaders to push harder to make ADTs the preferred degree at community colleges by automatically placing students on an ADT pathway.

“Because 60 percent of California undergraduate students are in community college and the majority of them belong to a racial/ethnic group with historically low bachelor’s degree attainment, improving transfer is not just key to producing the bachelor’s degrees the state needs,” the report read, “it also is key to achieving racial equity in higher education and economic opportunity for the state’s diverse population.”

Tara Lynn Gray, who most recently led the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, said the workforce is now demanding higher levels of education and training.

Gray was recently appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to lead the state’s Office of the Small Business Advocate.

“While the ADT may be driving growth in associate degree production in California, fewer than one third of Black graduates are utilizing this transfer pathway,” she said in a news release from the Campaign for College Opportunity.

“AB 928 represents a reasonable next step by creating an intersegmental implementation committee to address the racial equity gaps facing Black students.”

The Education Lab is a local journalism initiative that highlights education issues critical to the advancement of the San Joaquin Valley. It is funded by donors. Read more from The Bee’s Education Lab on our website.