LDTP, AB 540, SB 1440. Counseling faculty have met each of these transfer reform efforts with a healthy dose of skepticism, and for very good reason. For starters, legislators, not practitioners, hatched these reform ideas. The notion that folks with strong political motivations, who are so far removed from the everyday work of California community college educators, have been responsible for setting the transfer agenda is unsettling at best. And in our experience when policy is created legislatively and the implementation details begin to emerge, we see immediately the negative effects of unintended (or intended) consequences on our students. It begins to be clear that what may have initially seemed like a laudable attempt to streamline transfer by some, actually had the opposite impact.
The jury is still out on SB 1440, now law and referred to as the STAR (Student Transfer Agreement Reform) Act. What is clear is that an AA-T or AS-T will be an appropriate pathway for some students, but not others. Here is a scenario in which the AA-T/AS-T makes sense:
I’m in my second semester of community college in California. On the advice of the counselor who presented at my new student orientation, last semester I completed English and math, along with a career planning class which helped me in narrowing down career choices and an Introduction to Business course because I’m considering business as my major. This semester I am continuing with my math and English because in my first individual meeting with my counselor she stressed how important it was to complete my math and English sequences, since those classes teach skills that are the foundation for success in other subjects. She explained they are also admission requirements to the university and that I can improve my competitiveness for admission if I get them done early. When I registered for my second semester I was still undecided about my major, so along with math and English I am completing two courses on the IGETC pattern.
I’m now eight weeks into my second semester, and I finally feel like I have some direction. The business course helped me realize that while I originally thought about marketing, majoring in business would confine my creative side. I enjoy technology and I learned in my career planning course that pursuing something in the area of the arts would be a good fit for me, so I’m now leaning towards graphic design. I always expected to stay close to home when I transferred, and I hear my local CSU has a well-respected graphic design program, but my counselor is encouraging me to think big because I’ve had a secret desire to relocate and branch out on my own. She talked to me about these new degrees at CSU that guaranteed me admission to the CSU system, while also fulfilling requirements for an associate degree. It seems like a good idea to earn an associate degree from community college in case I’m not able to transfer as planned and have to return to work. These Associate Degrees for Transfer sound great because I can be competitive for admission to campuses away from home, as well as receive priority admission to my local CSU in a similar major. My counselor advised me that graphic design is a popular major and sometimes has more students applying to that major than the CSU has seats, so priority admission would be very helpful. The good news is that even if my major is impacted, I won’t be held to supplemental admission course work. I will have a good shot at getting into impacted programs as long as I maintain a strong GPA. And I even get a little GPA “bump” because I’m an Associate Degree for Transfer applicant! Once I get in, I will not have to take more than 60 units to finish my degree, so I can be assured I will graduate in a timely manner.
I left my counseling appointment full of hope and confidence with an education plan in hand that gets me an Associate of Arts for Transfer in Studio Art. It’s such a relief to have my future mapped out. Now I can focus on performing my best in the classroom. My prospects are looking bright!
My counseling colleagues and I will continue to approach legislatively driven transfer reforms with caution. After all, it’s our professional responsibility to advocate for what is in the best interest for the majority of our students. But that does not preclude us from seeing the positive aspects of efforts to streamline transfer and recommending those pathways to students when appropriate.