Degree With A Guarantee

Administration February 2019 PREMIUM
California Community Colleges’ Program Offering Automatic Acceptance At 4-Year Schools

Encouraging more students to earn bachelor degrees has been an ongoing goal of the chancellor’s office of California’s community colleges. In 2012, the California state legislature established an associate degree for transfer program, which guarantees acceptance into one of California’s state universities if students maintained a B grade point average (GPA).  In July 2018, it was expanded to include 39 private, non-profit independent colleges in the state, based on an agreement with the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (AICCU).

The program called the “Degree with a Guarantee” encourages two-year students to complete their associate degrees and keep going for more, namely bachelor’s degrees, by offering automatic acceptance as a junior into a four-year college that fits their educational goals.

Creating A “Transfer Culture”

In the past, many two-year students have gotten bogged down by needing to earn a living or an inability to put together financial aid packages and fail to move on to four-year colleges.  In fact, the Hechinger Report noted that about 20 percent of community college students attain their associate degree within three years of enrolling, and only 28 percent earn at least an associate degree.  Hence, three of four students fail to earn a two-year degree in a timely fashion, causing many to drop-out.

To overcome that, the California community college system is striving to create a “transfer culture,” explained Laura Hope, the vice chancellor for Educational Services and Support, based in Long Beach and Sacramento, California. To achieve that goal, it has invested $11 million in marketing and communication to inform students of its transfer program including videos in Spanish and podcasts.

Students are required to develop an educational roadmap with a counselor, detailing their goals and the steps required to achieve them.

After six years, the transfer program has demonstrated continued success, as nearly half of its students have earned associate degrees for transfer compared to 27 percent for traditional transfer students. That will help the state meet its workforce needs since California College Chancellor Eloy Oakley has stated that California will face a shortage in the near future of 1.1 million workers earning a bachelor’s degree.

Hence, students with a 2.0 GPA who graduate with an associate’s degree are guaranteed entrance into a four-year college.  And they enter as juniors, requiring only 60 more credits to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Some of the colleges involved include Pepperdine University, Mills College and Whittier College and less well-known institutions such as Azusa Pacific University and San Diego Christian College.  Some of the elite California colleges like Stanford University and University of Southern California are not participating.

Demystifying The Transfer Process

To earn a degree as a transfer depends on several factors including a graduate’s major.  A psychology major, for example, is required to take five or six core courses, a small set of elective options, and complete standard courses, covering English including college writing, communication, and public speaking.

Transferring into a four-year college has been particularly complicated for first-generation Latino and other minority students “because they don’t have the network or cultural capital to demystify the transfer process. That’s what why we wanted to simplify the transfer pathway for students as much as possible,” Hope noted.

Latinos are the majority in the California community college system, comprising 46 percent of students, compared to 29 percent White students, 14 percent Asian, 4 percent African-American, and 4 percent bi-racial, as of 2015/16.

And Latinos have benefited the most from this transfer degree.  “Demystifying transferring is particularly important for students who may not have someone at home that helps navigate them through college. We’ve seen the largest growth of students awarded bachelor’s degree with Latino students more than any other group,” Hope stated.  For example, in 2012-13, 2,000 Latino students were awarded transfer diplomas, but by 2016-17 that number has skyrocketed to 18,000 Latino students, a 900 percent increase.

Four-Year Colleges

Not only do the undergraduates gain but so do the four-year private colleges.  It helps to “diversify their student body with community college students,” Hope noted.  Most community college students do better than traditional students because they’ve attended courses with mostly 30 students, not lecture halls with 500 students.  “And many don’t come from privileged backgrounds and have more grit and resilience,” she observed.

Acceptance into a specific university is dependent on what a student majored in, how much competition there is, and many other factors beyond their grades, Hope suggested.

Junior college students must also be able to finance their four-year degrees.  Hope says most do so through a series of grants and scholarships including a college promise grant, which is an income-based fee waiver for students in low-income brackets and cobbling together Pell grants, FAFSA (Free Application for Federation Student Aid) financial aid, and work/study programs.

A “Transformational” Program

At Bakersfield Community College, located about 120 miles north of Los Angeles in a very agricultural area, the transfer program has been “transformational,” explained its president, Sonya Christian.  Its students in the associate transfer program spiked from 493 in 2016-17 to 824 in 2017-18.  “That policy level legislation provided the pressure and structure for community colleges to partner with California state universities,” she said.

Since Bakersfield Community College has one counselor for every 1,000 students, it developed a “high-tech, high-touch strategy” that appealed to first-generation college students. It provides a roadmap of which nine classes to take and enabled it to scale up participation, Christian said.

Once the policy expanded to private colleges, it met one-on-one with nearby colleges like Fresno Pacific University, its largest transfer partner after CSU-Bakersfield, to figure out what works for each major to improve articulation.  In fact, its faculty developed 27 full-transferable, sequenced roadmaps with CSU-Bakersfield’s bachelor’s degrees.

Most of its students won’t travel 100 miles away to attend college, so “We capitalize on local universities to provide the transition from associate degree to bachelor’s degree,” Christian emphasized.

Bakersfield Community College has been particularly successful with its Latino students, raising transfer rates for them 75 percent compared to 44 percent for White students.  It reached out to many migrant families and also promotes its Equal Opportunity Program, which provides special funding for low-income students.

Diversifying The Student Body

Kristen Soares, the president of the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities, underscores how the associate for transfer program is diversifying the student body of its member colleges statewide.  Of its entire study body, 24 percent are Latino, but of its 26,500 community college transfers from the program, 48 percent are Latino.  Hence, the program provides “a great opportunity for people from all works of life to attend the college or university that best fits their educational goals and learning needs,” she stated.

Moreover, Soares noted how prepared most of these transfer students are to advance to a four-year college.  The average GPA of these transfer students is 3.0, and they prosper from the individual attention offered in community colleges.

And yet the program makes college more affordable by allowing Latinos and other students “to start earning credits at a lower cost at a California community college,” Soares noted.


After six years, the associate for transfer program is ramping up the number of community college students advancing for bachelor degrees. Hope attributed its success to the fact that “students are well-prepared, and so are our faculty and the faculty from four-year colleges.  Once students reach the milestone of a transfer degree, they are highly motivated to finish.  Their families depend on them, and they take that responsibility seriously,” she said.


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