Transfer Degree Déjà Vu

Executive Committee

Transfer degrees are creating a buzz locally and statewide. These are degrees that have two goals – both degree completion and transfer. Legislators have shown interest in these degrees, and that interest caused some angst at the plenary session in the fall. But even if the legislative interest is removed, colleges are actively creating more degrees designed for students wishing to transfer as shown by the increased number of degrees approved at the Chancellor’s Office. Some faculty have expressed interest in revisiting degrees designed for transfer because they feel these degrees provide great options for students. And, the resolutions addressing transfer degrees were referred to the Executive Committee for improvement and return in the spring. Here are some thoughts and facts to help local senates and faculty discuss the issue of degrees designed especially for transfer.

Students have more degree options than ever before in the California community colleges. As reported by the Chancellor’s Office, the conversion of non-compliant to compliant degrees over the last few years has erupted into the creation of more than 1500 new associate degrees by community college faculty. Of these, more than 40% were created specifically with a focus on meeting transfer requirements. These degrees consist of a major or area of emphasis that is informed by common transfer major preparation requirements, typically require or recommend CSU GE or IGETC to fulfill the general education requirement, and electives to reach the minimum number of units required. Data will be available in a couple of years on the number of students taking advantage of these new degrees, which should show an increase in degree attainment.

Title 5 permits colleges to establish local graduation requirements. An associate degree contains component parts of 1) general education (locally or university determined), 2) major or area of emphasis, and 3) electives. However, in order to graduate with a degree, some colleges also add local graduation requirements to the above mentioned component parts. A graduation requirement might be to take a physical education, computer literacy, multicultural, or other course, and sometimes, these requirements are embedded in other GE area courses or are separate courses that often perform double duty (meeting GE as well as graduation requirements). There is debate about whether or not local graduation requirements deter transfer students from earning a degree prior to transfer. Much more data is needed to draw conclusions about the negative effects of requiring students to fulfill one or more additional requirements.

Local senates recommend to their boards local graduation requirements that are believed to be academically sound and good for students. Title 5 gives the senates and boards the ability to define a degree that fits the local culture and community plus gives students the educational background that is jointly believed to contribute to the success and well being of students. If there is suspicion that local requirements are impeding transfer, Title 5 permits local decision making to correct any problems.

Counselors are needed more today than ever before. With more degrees to choose from and more competition for fewer transfer seats at the universities, students need guidance from counselors at an increasing rate. Unfortunately, just as student needs skyrocket, matriculation and counseling budgets are decreasing. Local senates must remind college colleagues of the value of the counselors and counseling staff and the effects that budgets cuts wreak on counselor burn out and student success.

Local senates may wish to invite counselors to speak to the senate about ways that other discipline faculty can assist the counseling and advising process. For example, what strategies for accessing counselors can be shared with students? What messages about transfer deadlines can be communicated in the classroom? How can classroom faculty market degree attainment to transfer students? Despite the help that classroom faculty provide, no one can replace the wonderful counselor-student interaction that makes the difference for students.

Faculty do not want to create artificial barriers for students earning degrees. Some will argue that local graduation requirements become barriers to transfer students earning associate degrees because students may have to take additional units or extend their stay at the community college in order to complete the requirements. It may cost students more money to complete these requirements, too. If students find real barriers to earning degrees, then faculty will want to re-evaluate graduation requirements. If however, students are opting out of earning a degree prior to transfer for other reasons, then faculty can work with student leaders to learn more about student perception of degree attainment.

It is true that some colleges have more graduation requirements than others. Faculty and senates must decide which requirements make sense and are relevant for students. Degree requirements determined by faculty-driven motives are due for re-thinking. Hopefully, faculty never use FTES, faculty workload, or enrollment as the motivators for creating degree requirements.

Barriers to student attainment of degrees are a serious matter. The Chancellor’s Office considers it important enough to require reviews of degree attainment and transfer through student equity plans. Colleges last submitted student equity plans about five years ago, and one component of the plans addressed any disproportionate success of student cohorts in degree attainment and transfer. The Academic Senate’s resolutions and papers on student equity communicate the importance of identifying and eliminating barriers contributing to disproportionate success. Local senates should carefully monitor local graduation requirements and barriers to transfer for adverse impact.

In conclusion, faculty have a responsibility to use their authority wisely. Students have access to many degree options today that combine interdisciplinary coursework, have a transfer preparation focus, and meet the requirements of transferable general education. There are many good reasons to review local graduation requirements to ensure that students are well served and artificial barriers are removed. Local senates and boards have the authority to create local graduation requirements and may modify or eliminate the graduation requirements for students earning degrees that prepare them for transfer. Please share this information with local governing boards and legislators.