Streamlining Transfer Pathways: Educational Equity or Equality

ASCCC President
ASCCC Vice President

Given that one of the missions of the California community colleges is providing opportunities for students to prepare for transfer to four-year institutions, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges has long been engaged in the work of streamlining the transfer process. Students in California’s community colleges transfer to the California State University, the University of California, the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities systems as well as other institutions both inside and outside of California. Discipline faculty and student services and support faculty strive to provide students with assistance and resources to successfully navigate and travel through their entire community college experience. Faculty and students also depend on administrators, governing boards, and classified professionals to ensure that adequate services and programs are available in order for students to meet their educational goals.

One of the most recent additions to facilitate transfer has been the guided pathways efforts undertaken by colleges throughout the state. The California Community College Guided Pathways Grant Program [1], part of the 2017-18 Budget Act, paved the way for colleges and local academic senates to streamline and accelerate student transfer. With strong student supports throughout a four-pillar model, colleges are in year four of an institutional redesign that is intended to clarify educational pathways for students, help students to find pathways that meet their educational goals, help students to stay focused while progressing along on the pathways, and ensure that students are learning what is being taught. This institutional redesign, which is expected to take up to ten years for full implementation, is paired with efforts that began in 2007 with the creation of the first C-ID Course descriptors and continued in 2010 around transfer model curricula (TMCs).

The ASCCC’s advocacy for discipline faculty to be brought together from all three segments of California public higher education to align transfer pathways has a long history, dating back at least two decades to the creation of the Intersegmental Majors Preparation Advisory Committee (IMPAC). These gatherings brought faculty together to discuss the most needed elements of lower division transfer preparation to four-year universities and colleges and paved the way for the creation of C-ID [2], a course identification numbering system that enables colleges and students to assess transferability and degree applicability of course work. Currently, more than 350 C-ID descriptors for courses in 81 disciplines have been established. Following legislation that called for additional assistance for students preparing to transfer (SB 1440 [Padilla, 2010] and SB 440 [Padilla, 2013]), the associate degrees for transfer (ADTs) were created. ADTs allow students to graduate with an associate degree with no more than 60 units and guarantee transfer to the CSU system, as well as guaranteeing the possible completion of a bachelor’s degree with a total of no more than 120 units.

Currently, intersegmental efforts have created 40 TMCs and 20 UC transfer pathways (UCTP) that students can follow to assist in the transfer process. Although TMCs were created for many majors in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, students often transfer before completing all of the general education requirements of these degrees due to the nature of these majors and the 60-unit cap on the ADT and therefore do not earn an associate degree. Attempts to mitigate this situation led to the convening of discipline faculty in chemistry and physics from all three public postsecondary educational systems and resulted in a UCTP pilot program in chemistry and physics through which students can earn an associate degree with some of the general education units to be completed after transfer to the UC system. The pilot degree program also requires that students meet certain grade point average requirements for admission into the UC system. The major preparation in the engineering model curriculum has been aligned with a UCTP, but a TMC for engineering has not been possible due the requirement that all general education and major preparation courses be completed prior to transfer; completing all of these requirements would surpass the 60-unit cap.

At the Fall 2017 ASCCC Plenary Session, the delegates asked the higher education systems to find ways to ensure that students are prepared to transfer to either the CSU or UC systems—Resolution F17 15.01 [3]—and to streamline that process as much as possible, removing barriers for transfer and eliminating duplication of efforts. Conversations around this topic began with the Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates in fall 2018, and, in fall 2019, the Intersegmental Curriculum Workgroup and the C-ID Advisory Committee examined TMCs from seven disciplines to determine whether they could be aligned with a UC transfer pathway with no or minimal modification. Surveys, webinars, and meetings with discipline faculty helped to determine that for the TMCs in anthropology, sociology, and history, alignment was fairly straight forward, with the understanding that students would need to take specific courses in their general education patterns in order to be eligible for admission to both systems. For the TMCs in business administration, economics, mathematics, and philosophy, pathways could not be easily aligned without including additional coursework that students would need depending on their transfer destination. The next three majors to be examined to determine whether alignment between the TMC and UCTP is feasible are biology, English, and political science. All of these proposed pathways will also align with college guided pathways frameworks, which often include general education offerings that complement the major offerings.

While faculty can work within their colleges and systems to align transfer, elements also exist outside of the colleges that must be taken into account. Local employment and labor market data and local needs also drive course and program offerings in many colleges, including in disciplines that can lead to transfer to four-year institutions. Students may be place-bound, meaning they are limited in terms of the colleges to which they can apply, and college affordability is always an issue. Many of these factors can be mitigated by strong counseling programs within the systems of the California community colleges and the four-year institutions as well as through changes to the understanding of what college affordability really means. The Research and Planning Group’s report Through the Gate Transfer Study [4] is particularly useful for considering the reasons that students fail to transfer even when they are transfer ready.

The work of transfer is one of the key components of all California community colleges and their faculty. Even faculty who teach in areas where transfer is not a direct goal, such as noncredit, provide opportunities to students that may lead to students moving to a four-year institution or another college. The streamlining and alignment of transfer must be done thoughtfully and in partnership with transfer institutions; it cannot be done in a vacuum or without deliberative dialogue with discipline faculty, student services and support faculty,

classified professionals, and administrators. Equally important is that colleges give students agency in these decisions. For transfer to work, and work well, the practitioners and students must be the ones making decisions, collaborating on structures that best serve both students and communities.

1. The text of the legislation that grated the grant program can be found here:
2. More information on the C-ID Course Identification Number System is available at
3. Full text of all ASCCC resolutions is available at
4. The study is available at