An update to the transfer success of students attending Long Beach City College delivered at Tuesday night’s board of trustees meeting showed that it still takes a long time to matriculate toward graduation or transfer. In fact, it takes over 30 percent of students six years to complete the process from the day they step foot on campus.
The presentation by Transfer Center Coordinator Ruben Page highlighted the issue that Superintendent President Eloy Oakley characterized as “unacceptable” during his State of the College address in February. According to Page, only four percent of LBCC students experience a “transfer velocity”—the rate at which they become transfer eligible—that allows them to attain an Associate's Degree for Transfer (ADT) in two years. Page called the ADT the “platinum card” for transfer because it ensures a comprehensive review of the transfer student’s application.
While the update showed that that the school sends the majority of its transfers on to Cal State schools, producing over 900 CSU transfer-eligible students during the 2013-2014 school year, it shed light on its continued struggles to place students into the University of California system. A total of 457 of the CSU transfer-eligible students qualified for California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Between 2010 and 2014, LBCC averaged 880 CSU transfer-eligible students, but in the same time frame it produced an average of 90 UC transfer-eligible students.
Those figures place LBCC 15th among the 113 community colleges in California in producing CSU transfer-eligible students and 56th overall in terms of UC eligible transfers. Santa Monica College, rated as one of the best community colleges in the state, produced over 1,000 transfer-eligible students to both the CSU and UC systems in the same year. The long road to completing an ADT has been attributed in large part to the recession in the early 2000s that forced budgetary cuts statewide, something Superintendent President Eloy Oakley said is going to take a lot of work to reverse.
“This not a Long Beach City College issue, this is a national issue,” Oakley said. “And continuing to support the college and providing leadership on these issues I think is key as we advocate in the State Capitol with the federal level policy and financing changes that need to happen in order to support these populations of students. All those things continue to need your support as we continue to try and move the needle on these numbers.”
Despite only four percent of its students completing an ADT in two years, the college’s student completion percentage does ascend with each additional year enrolled, with years five (25 percent) and six (32 percent) representing the years when most students complete an ADT or transfer. The calculations were based on the 2008-2009 cohort, which included a grand total of 1,877 students. Board President Jeff Kellogg downplayed the numbers as a success, stating that when looking at a college with an enrollment of nearly 30,000, the number of students the college did transfer was small.
The students included in the cohort demonstrated “behavioral intent” to transfer, meaning they completed 12 units or more during their first two years, including completion of transfer-level English or math courses. Still, the fact that what used to be considered a two-year degree is now taking students the same amount of time it takes to attain a master's degree did not sit well with board members.
“Even though we have great success stories […] it [took place] over six years,” Kellogg said. “How are we going to accelerate this? People talk about community college as a two-year institution but the fact is how are we as a college going to get that rate much more aggressive through years two and three and four and down from six?”
Oakley stressed this point during his speech in February, calling on the administrators to recognize the issue and pledging to dedicate resources to fix it. The school has made strides in its attempt to rebound from the budget cuts earlier this year that ravaged community colleges statewide, forcing them to slash course offerings and layoff instructors.
In the same speech, Oakley announced the hiring of 53 full-time faculty members for the start of this year’s spring semester. In June, the trustees could ratify a proposal to hire 27 additional full-timers and extend the hours of other faculty members that were previously shortened.
Stacy Toda, the college’s associate director of public affairs and marketing, said the June vote would be influenced by Governor Jerry Brown’s final budget numbers that are currently making their way through the state legislature, but that the school is confident they’ll be able to deliver on the proposed faculty hires.
“The January budget was more conservative than the budget that was released in April so we’re pretty sure we’re going to get those funds,” Toda said.
The 2012 institution of the Promise Pathways program that deviates from the customary standardized test method to place students in courses has also helped students take less classes in order to complete their ADT. The program takes into account performance in high school courses, GPA and the last grade achieved in similar courses to better figure out which level math and English a student should start their college careers in. Oakley said the program has resulted in a 300 percent increase of incoming students being placed in transfer level math and English classes.
When the frequency of these “gateway course” offerings started to dwindle during the recession, it became common for students to sit on waiting lists for semesters at a time, extending their journey to transfer. The school currently offers 43 transfer-level English courses and 13 transfer-level math courses. Toda said that while those figures haven't been affected by the recession, the number of course sections offered has changed with attendance levels. Offering more of these courses, with the help of more faculty to teach them, could help alleviate part of the transfer velocity problem.
“The key to graduation requirements and the key to transfer readiness are the gateway courses; the gateway courses being transfer level math and transfer level English,” Oakley said.
For other members of the board, getting students to commit to an educational plan early on is just as important as offering the courses they need for completion.
Trustee Douglas Otto said that when the college entered into the Long Beach College Promise—the program that was designed to streamline access to CSULB for Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) students by providing a semester of free tuition at LBCC and guaranteed admission if basic requirements are met—the focus was on getting students on campus. Once they arrived, Otto said it became apparent that the issue was more nuanced and that other barriers existed between enrollment and completion.
“Even if we could [get] them here, there were road blocks to getting them to transfer,” Otto said. “What we’ve learned is that for some students we have to work harder to get those educational plans in place sooner. And not only sooner, but in particular for people who might be capable of going to the UCs, who it might not have ever occurred to them to go to the UC.”
In terms of boosting their UC transfer rate, the school is hopeful that with the help of Oakley’s position on the Board of Regents and an outreach effort to demystify student’s perception of the UC system, they can improve upon their current trajectory.
Page said that all too often he sees students shy away from UC applications because they think they can’t handle the rigors of a research university, admission is too competitive, fear that a part-time student wouldn’t fit in or because they flat out can’t afford it. He added that family legacy also plays a strong role in student’s decision to opt for the CSU over the UC system.
“I’d like to mention the word history in this,” Page said. “For Cal State Long Beach there is a history of brothers, sisters, mom or dads going to Cal States, and that’s the history we need to build with the UCs. When I take students to see the UC schools they really are first generation students. They have no one leading the way for them.”
Oakley said that an announcement expected from the Board of Regents in October will work to alleviate some of that uncertainty that may help schools like LBCC start to build that lineage of UC transfers. He said an ADT model for the UC is in the works, with 10 majors set to be announced in the fall that will “mirror as closely as possible” the current CSU agreement. Twenty majors altogether are expected to eventually have common pathways for transfer to the UC.
“All nine of the undergraduate campuses will have common transfer requirements of all community college students,” Oakley said. “And that will make life a lot easier for Ruben [Page]. In addition, we're pushing hard to also have the guaranteed admission requirement.”
But even with all the improvements in the pipeline to make completing an ADT in place or in the process of being approved, Oakley said that ultimately it will be up to the CSU and UC campuses to make room for transfer-eligible students to continue their education.
“All these issues are interwound with college completion,” Oakley said. “We can only control the transfer-preparedness of students; we can’t control the actual transfer of students because that’s a function of the CSU and the UC opening up seats for students at any particular campus.”
The school’s current model suggests those universities will have some time to clear room for this year’s class of LBCC freshmen.