By Brad Davis, WVMCCD Chancellor, Mercury News Editorial
For tens of thousands of high school students across California, the excitement of the college application process culminates in disappointment this month as the University of California makes its admission decisions. Demand for a UC education has never been higher, while acceptance rates have never been lower.
In fact, at top schools such as UC Berkeley and UCLA, almost 90% of the high school students who applied will not gain admission. Being at the top of their high school class with perfect grades, impeccable service records and strong activities means little in the face of overwhelming odds. This year UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, UCLA, and UC Berkeley all received more than 100,000 applications.
Yet for students who take a different route out of high school, admission to the UC of their choice is a virtual certainty. By electing to get a two-year associate degree at one of California’s 116 community colleges and entering Transfer Admission Guarantee (TAG) protocols, doors to the UCs open automatically.
Guaranteed admissions to both the CSU and UC campuses are just one of the many benefits of the community college alternative that tend to go unnoticed and unreported during college admission season.
Moreover, studies have shown that students who come from community colleges have a higher retention and graduation rate than students who enter the UCs as freshmen out of high school.
The community college route into the UC system is a particular game- changer for high school seniors with strong but not-quite strong enough academic resumes and who are worried about finances.
Students who transfer from a community college enter a UC carrying significantly less debt than the students who entered the system right out of high school, since community college semester-costs are about a tenth of those at a UC such as Berkeley, if you include room and board. Community colleges also provide two years free tuition to qualifying low-income students.
These two-year colleges offer a rigorous curriculum and small-sized classes likely taught by full-time faculty, not a graduate assistant as is the case in many undergrad UC classes. Community colleges also provide far more outside-the-classroom support, from new laptops to mental health counseling and transportation services.
Despite the academic and financial success stories, however, TAG and Associate Degree for Transfer (ACT), the transfer program for CSUs, are underutilized.
More than 2 million students enroll in California community colleges each year, including many first-generation Black, Latino and low-income students intent on eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. That’s why increasing the transfer rates from community college would translate into a more diverse and skilled workforce for California businesses.
It starts by simplifying the transfer process and introducing the community college alternative in high school counseling sessions for students with their sights on a UC degree.
Two bills signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom late last year promise to streamline the transfer process and better coordinate curriculum requirements among the three higher education systems. The bills also create a single committee of K-12, community college and university representatives to develop easy-to-understand curriculum pathways from high school through college graduation.
These laws underscore the need to get the word out about the value of a community college education for students who dream of one day getting a degree from a UC. There’s a guaranteed way to keep those dreams alive and ensure a more equitable future where all Californians realize the privilege of a world class education.