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7 years to a bachelor’s degree: California community college students who transfer to UC or CSU schools are trapped in a system that adds $38K to the cost of a diploma, new study shows

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | October 5, 2017

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(Photo courtesy: The Campaign for College Opportunity)

The main goal for most community college students in California is to transfer to a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s degree. But a new report shows it takes an average of 6.5 years to get a bachelor’s for students transferring to the University of California system and seven years for those transferring to the California State University system.

In addition to time, transfer students pay an additional $36,000 to $38,000 to attain that degree, the study found.

According to “The Transfer Maze: The High Cost to Students and the State of California,” released this week by The Campaign for College Opportunity, “transfer to the UC and the CSU remains complicated, and as students have described, bureaucratic, inconsistent, and confusing.”

“It took me longer than it should have to transfer because I was taking all these courses unaware that they weren’t transferable to a UC system,” said Erika Perez, a UC Riverside graduate and member of Students for Education Reform, a student advocacy organization.

This is how long it takes the average community college student to transfer:

  • 2% transfer after 2 years
  • 25% transfer after 4 years
  • 38% transfer after 6 years.

Enrollment in the state’s community colleges exceeded 1.5 million in the fall of 2016. Latinos are the largest group, at 45 percent, with more than 684,000 enrolled in community colleges. Only 16 percent of Latinos in the nation graduate from college.

The Public Policy Institute of California has reported that California will be short 1.1 million workers with college degrees to meet workforce demands by 2030.

Of Californians 25 years and older:

  • 20 percent have a bachelor’s degree
  • 8 percent have an associate degree
  • 11 percent have a graduate or professional degree
  • 61 percent have no higher education.

The new report noted that a quicker way to get through community college is to get an associate degree for transfer, known as an ADT, and more students are choosing this pathway. The report found that 48 percent of students with an ADT degree transferred to a CSU and graduated with a bachelor’s degree within two years, compared to only 27 percent for traditional transfer students.

“The report finds that students earning an ADT are more likely to transfer than those on traditional transfer pathways and are more likely to earn their bachelor’s degree within two years of transferring,” Michele Siqueiros, president of The Campaign for College Opportunity, said in a statement. “The evidence is clear — it’s time to get serious about making the ADT the preferred pathway for students to transfer to both the CSU and UC.”

“As a first-generation college student at a community college, I was lost in terms of what I needed to do to put me on a path to transfer,” Perez said. “And once I figured it out, I hit barrier after barrier — all things that could have been avoided early on only if I knew how important it was to meet with my counselor to develop my education plan.”

A bill, AB 705, awaiting the governor’s signature would allow more students have access to college-level courses when they start community college by requiring colleges to use high school transcripts as a factor in determining course placement for college-level math and English. Siqueiros noted in her statement the bill could help transfer students get a four-year degree faster.


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