SB 440: Strengthening Pathways to Four Year Degrees
By Michele Siqueiros
The Campaign for College Opportunity
The key to meeting our economy’s demand for a skilled workforce lies within California’s Community Colleges. Serving over two million students annually, community colleges provide an affordable and valuable opportunity in every community across our state and serve a diverse student body. Whether a student is attending straight from high school, part time as they work a full time job and raise a family, or while searching for a new job and trying to upgrade his/her skills, community colleges are California’s gateway to higher education.
One of the primary functions of our community colleges is to prepare students with the first two years of their Baccalaureate education before transferring to a four year university. Unfortunately, only 23% of degree-seeking community college students actually transfer. Low rates of transfer can be attributed to a confusing and unworkable transfer process that puts needless barriers before students. Today’s transfer pathway is a patchwork of conflicting and overlapping rules, regulations and requirements.
Fortunately, in 2010, Senator Alex Padilla introduced SB 1440, the Student Transfer Achievement Reform (STAR) Act, which fundamentally streamlined the transfer process between our 112 community colleges and 23 California State Universities (CSU). SB 1440 provides a simple, understandable, and workable system for students. First, students would take a set of courses that enables them to gain an Associate Degree for transfer in 25 of the most popular majors and guarantees them admission with junior standing to the CSU system.
The library at Sacramento City College, which served over 25,000 students in 2009
Over the past three years, there has been significant progress by our community colleges and CSU campuses to create these new pathways. But, progress at some individual campuses is still lagging. This is why Senator Padilla introduced critical follow up legislation, SB 440 this year. SB 440 would require community colleges and the CSU to meet clear benchmarks for offering and accepting the new transfer degrees by 2015-16. In order to keep the promise of guaranteed admission to the CSU, the bill requires the CSU to develop an admissions redirection process for students who are not initially accepted to their campus of choice, so that they know there’s another campus they can attend. The bill also calls for the development of areas of emphasis degrees in broader areas of study that provide community college students with more flexibility. Finally, the bill calls for an aggressive marketing plan, to inform students about all the benefits and guarantees of the new transfer degrees.
Successful implementation of this historic transfer pathway will realize the vision begun in the 1960’s with the Master Plan for Higher Education creating a strong and clear path to transfer for the majority of community college students. This is also a win for the state, as it ensures that more of its population is better prepared to meet the workforce demands of the future and that tax payer resources are effectively used to get students in and through college in a timely fashion, while providing a return on investment of these dollars by the higher earnings of these college graduates.
There is a groundswell of support for SB 440. Over 50 community, business and civil rights organizations have rallied in support. The legislation has successfully made its way through the State Senate and just passed the Assembly Higher Education Committee with a unanimous vote. This legislation deserves to move through the Assembly and on to the Governor’s desk for his signature. It’s good for students, it’s good for the state and it’s good for businesses looking to hire better prepared and well educated graduates.