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California and the West

Transfer Rankings Anger 2-Year Colleges

Data: Chancellor releases list of those sending relatively few students to UC or Cal State. Critics call study misleading.


It's been attacked as embarrassing, hurtful and just plain wrongheaded. But it also marks the first time that California's community college system has fingered the 14 campuses--out of 107 statewide--with the worst record of transferring students to the state's public universities.

More than half of those on the list are urban campuses in the Los Angeles Basin, serving large numbers of Latino and African American students. They are: Los Angeles Trade-Tech College, Los Angeles Mission College, Los Angeles Harbor College and East Los Angeles College, as well as Rio Hondo College in Whittier, Cerritos College, Santa Ana College in Orange County and Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga.

The others, scattered around the state, include the urban campus of San Diego City College and schools in wealthy enclaves, Marin College in Marin County and Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey. Three are in remote areas: Imperial Valley College, Barstow College in the High Desert northeast of Los Angeles and Lassen Community College in Susanville, about 90 miles north of Reno.

Many of these colleges, which have been striving for years to increase transfer rates, are frustrated or furious about being placed on what they perceive as a list of shame, which the community college chancellor's office assembled under pressure from the state Legislature.

"This gives a completely false impression," said Ernest Moreno, president of East Los Angeles College. "Our institution transfers the largest number of Hispanic students in California, if not the United States."

"I'm pretty irate," said Rita Cepeda, president of Santa Ana College. "This is so irresponsible, and I've said as much in my message to the chancellor. I've asked him to convene all of the CEOs of these community colleges to explain the methodology and how this will help, rather than hinder, our progress."

Christopher Cabaldon, systemwide vice chancellor for policy and planning, acknowledged "a high level of anxiety" among colleges on the bottom of the list.

"The work we've been doing is not an indictment of those colleges," he said. "But that doesn't mean they cannot do better."

Moreover, he said, the chancellor's office is simply following orders. This year's state budget instructed community college districts "to increase the number of student transfers from low-transfer community colleges by an average of 15% annually." The budget defines success as increasing transfers to the Cal State and University of California systems.

But that instruction, which took the community colleges by surprise, created a problem: No one knew which campuses fit the definition of "low transfer" colleges.

So the chancellor's researchers collected data to compare transfer rates at the 107 colleges, coming up with an initial list of 26 campuses--about the bottom one-fourth. (One college, Antelope Valley, was excluded from the study because it failed to collect proper data.)

Some Factors Beyond Colleges' Control

But some factors that reduce transfer rates are beyond the control of college administrators. Community colleges in the shadow of a university, for instance, usually send more students to that university than a campus farther away does.

To make colleges more comparable, researchers adjusted the transfer rates, factoring in the distance to the nearest Cal State campus, the proportion of students under age 25, how many come from low-income households and the proportion who entered college with a stated goal of completing a four-year degree.

After those factors were considered, the list dropped to 14.

Willard Hom, the chancellor's director of planning and research, said the study has many limitations. It ignores a relatively small number of successful students who continued their education at private universities or who transferred to institutions outside California. It doesn't consider factors such as the Northridge earthquake, which disrupted the freeways and studies of some students in the Los Angeles area.

Nor does it factor in race or ethnicity.

Although Latino and African American students are often less likely than white and Asian American students to transfer to a university, researchers consciously excluded this as an adjustment. They did not want, Hom wrote in his study, "to promote an attitude of lowered expectations for certain disadvantaged groups."

Indeed, community college transfer rates have surfaced as a hot topic in Sacramento specifically because of declining numbers of Latinos and black students admitted to UC Berkeley, UCLA and other competitive campuses since the state's ban on affirmative action in admissions went into effect.

A growing number of lawmakers and educators see the community colleges as a rich, untapped source of these underrepresented minority students who can be cultivated for university-level work.

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