His Ventura College buddies may be sweating this spring as they wait to hear whether they have been accepted for transfer to a University of California campus in the fall, but not chemistry major Armando Hernandez, who secured his scholastic future months ago.
In August, Hernandez, 20, signed a contract with UC Santa Cruz that guarantees him admission if he maintained a 2.8 grade point average and took certain classes. By mid-November, weeks before the application deadline, Hernandez received written confirmation saying the school had reserved a place for him in its junior class.
"It definitely boosted my self-esteem, because [it] alleviated the worry that I wouldn't get accepted anywhere," said Hernandez, who has dreamed of attending Santa Cruz since high school.
Originally conceived as a regional partnership between individual university campuses and their local two-year "feeder" schools, such agreements are gaining popularity statewide as four-year institutions face pressure to increase the number of community college graduates who transfer to their campuses each year.
Of the University of California's undergraduate campuses, all but Berkeley and UCLA--the two most sought after--offer similar guaranteed transfer programs, as do many of the colleges in the California State University system.
Even UC Berkeley and UCLA, though, try to encourage transfers. Berkeley offers a transfer guarantee to applicants who applied as freshmen and met the eligibility requirements but were not admitted--if they complete a list of requirements at certain community colleges. And UCLA, while not guaranteeing admission to transfers, promises to give extra consideration to transfer students from specified local community colleges, all in Southern California.
After years of maintaining an exclusive relationship with Santa Barbara City College, UC Santa Barbara this year authorized guaranteed admission arrangements with Ventura County's three community colleges. UC Santa Cruz has guaranteed transfer deals with 96 of the state's 108 community colleges, including the nine in the Los Angeles Community College District, and UC Davis has deals with 71 two-year schools.
Even as the number of contracts multiply, opinions vary on their value to students.
Some Counselors Say Pacts Are Superfluous
Some community college counselors argue that the documents are essentially meaningless, because any student who meets the conditions spelled out in the agreements would automatically be admitted to a four-year college. The counselors say that the paperwork serves mostly as a marketing vehicle for community colleges, which use their admission pacts to promote university ties.
"It does give people a little more comfort, if UC Davis, say, has an admission agreement with Santa Monica, that this community college thing must work," said Bruce Nannini, transfer coordinator at Santa Monica City College. "But most of these kids have good enough grade points to get into Davis and UC San Diego without the guarantee. I tell them, 'Personally, I don't see the benefit.'"
Supporters assert that the word "guarantee" is a powerful lure that encourages community college students to get the academic advice needed to ensure a successful and timely transfer.
"They are a wonderful, wonderful tool for identifying students who are serious about transfer," said Aiden Ely, transfer coordinator at the California Community Colleges chancellor's office.
Most of the agreements are still too new to gauge their effectiveness in putting more community college students on the transfer path. But at UC Davis, which has the longest track record with such guarantees, officials say the contracts have helped boost the transfer rate.
This fall, Davis enrolled 1,900 transfer students, up from 1,500 two years ago. More than half entered under the campus' transfer admission agreement program, said Michael Dang, associate director of undergraduate admissions.
Pacts Not Catching On at Some Schools
Nevertheless, the concept has been slow to catch on at many community colleges. At El Camino College in Torrance, only about five students signed a transfer agreement during the fall application period, said Sue Oda-Omori, who directs the campus' transfer center. Olivia Menchaca, transfer center director at Oxnard College, recalls having just two turned in to her this year.
"We have to put things in perspective: Students aren't required to have one and they will get in, regardless, if they have met all these criteria," Menchaca said. "They would be great at a school like San Diego State or Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but they have so many students knocking at their doors they don't need these agreements."
One reason the contracts aren't more popular is that the campuses offering them tend to have liberal admissions policies--and savvy students know it. Under UC Santa Cruz's guaranteed admission program, community college students are promised admission if they maintain a minimum 2.8 GPA. But Santa Cruz still admits every student who meets the minimum UC transfer eligibility requirements, which require only a 2.4 GPA.
Chau Tranchi, 24, went into the Moorpark College transfer center recently, fully expecting to sign a letter of intent with Cal State Northridge. "I feel like I would have a higher chance of getting in," she said.
But counselor Patrick Aguirre told her the soonest she could relocate to the Northridge campus under the university's guaranteed transfer agreement would be fall 2003. Fortunately for Tranchi, she has enough units and a high enough GPA--just over 2.0-- that she could transfer later this year if she completes the required classes by fall.