In 1986, mindful of criticism that California's two-year colleges were not doing an adequate job of getting students into four-year schools, officials at Santa Monica City College opened its Transfer Center.
They also launched a Scholars Program, which guarantees its honors students admission to UCLA and other four-year universities.
Today, those projects are getting credit for the big jump in the number of Santa Monica students who transfer to a University of California campus. Last fall the college sent a record 419 students to UC--more than any of the other 106 community colleges in California.
"It is certainly rewarding to note that, after fairly constant rates of student transfer from 1978 to 1986, our college has experienced in the last five years more than a 65% increase in UC transfers," said Richard Moore, Santa Monica's president.
Not every community college is doing so well.
State legislation enacted in 1988 to improve the colleges pronounced two primary missions for the schools: vocational training and liberal arts education, leading to transfer to a four-year college or university. Their Achilles' heel has been the transfer part of the equation.
In the fall of 1975, the community colleges sent 8,002 students to UC and 35,537 to Cal State, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission. In the fall of 1986, the numbers were down to 4,858 and 27,761, respectively. Educators acknowledge that the transfer rate is affected by many factors, including student finances and other circumstances, the level of funding for the colleges and what is happening at four-year schools.
Two-year colleges have taken some heat for not doing more to help their students position themselves academically. Often, students have not taken the right course or have not been helped to hone their academic skills. Community colleges and the four-year schools also were criticized for not adequately coordinating their programs, causing many transfer students to lose course credits.
In the last few years, however, some progress has been made toward ironing out these problems, and a number of projects have sprung up to improve the situation. Checking the transfer rate at a community college is important.
For students who are not economically, emotionally or academically ready for a four-year institution, community colleges have long been the answer.
Fees are currently no more than $50 per semester, and even with the governor's proposed increase, they will be no more than $60 a semester next year. Class schedules are flexible to accommodate working students--about three-fourths of those enrolled, according to officials of the California Community Colleges system. Generally, the colleges are open to every state resident 18 or older, with classroom space and budget constraints the only things limiting enrollment. Three-fourths of the colleges have child-care centers, and most offer English classes for recent immigrants.
As of last fall, nearly 1.5 million students were enrolled in California's two-year colleges, an increase of more than 4% from the previous year.
Like Santa Monica, many of the colleges have opened transfer centers to help students fulfill course requirements, meet with representatives from four-year schools and get assistance in applying for financial aid.
The community college system has "articulation agreements" with four-year institutions specifying courses that fulfill transfer require ments. A computerized program, Project ASSIST, is aimed at simplifying the transfer process.
Some colleges also have negotiated their own agreements that guarantee admission, or at least give priority, to two-year students who complete specified courses with good grades. One such project is UCLA's Transfer Alliance program with several area community colleges.
Since 1981, the privately funded Puente Project has been striving to help more Latino students transfer to four-year institutions. The Oakland-based Puente ("bridge" in Spanish) operates on 25 campuses across the state, including East Los Angeles, El Camino and Oxnard community colleges.
The project concentrates on improving writing skills and knowledge of the educational system and provides mentors and role models. Its directors say 40% of students who have been through the program since 1986 have transferred to four-year schools; 25% of Puente students transfer to UC, compared to 17% of other Latino community college students.
A report issued last year by the California Postsecondary Education Commission gave college officials some indication their efforts are beginning to pay off.
In the 1980-81 school year, community colleges accounted for 6,277, or 43.7%, of the 14,357 new transfer students at UC. By the 1989-90 term, the total number of transfers was down to 13,323, but a greater proportion--8,139, or 61.1%--came from community colleges.
There was a similar pattern for transfers to Cal State. In 1980-81 there were 66,917 transfers, including 46,649, or 69.7%, from two-year schools. The numbers were down to 60,070 in 1989-90. While the number of transfers dipped for all groups, the 45,724 students from community colleges represented a bigger proportion--76.1%--of the transfers.