Perspective: Transfer Degrees & Assembly Bill 928
Disclaimer: Views are expressly mine and do not represent the views of my employers.
Let me start by saying that working within the California Community Colleges (CCC) system as a professor is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. More often than not, I have seen students come to Moorpark College unsure of what path to take or come here hoping to discover (or rediscover) their passion. It only takes 1-2 courses for some to find out what they want to call their vocation and avocation, and for others, it takes years. And I love that we are here to serve both of those types of students. I love the work I do, and I know it makes a difference in students' lives, and that is our credo: putting students first. However, I'm deeply concerned about AB 928 and the accompanying headlines coming out today, such as this one by the Los Angeles Times. My concern and opposition shouldn't come as a surprise, given that every practitioner system has voiced opposition or called for significant revision regarding the automatic placement of students on the ADT pathway:
Academic Senate for California Community Colleges: opposed
Student Senate for California Community Colleges: opposed
California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office: opposed unless amended
Joint System Partners: opposed unless amended
California Department of Finance: opposed due to fiscal impact
AB 928 has excellent intentions to close the transfer gap, but it treats a side effect rather than a systemic problem. The ADT or Associate's Degree for Transfer is coined as a 'degree with a guarantee.' Sounds wonderful! Except, in 2020, only 24% of all CCC transfers to the CSUs transferred with the ADT guarantee. Less than half of ADT degree earners transferred to a CSU with a guarantee. Research from the Campaign for College Opportunity points out that students in ADT programs end up taking more units than they need to transfer (students in ADT programs take an average of 86; they are only required to take 60). It's also important to note that the transfer guarantee is not place-bound specific for the small minority of students who are successfully benefitting from the ADT system. Students who cannot leave their families for whatever circumstance(s) may get accepted to a CSU 300 miles away from home. The system views this as a fulfillment of that promise. However, the student views this as a failure of the system and is faced with an impossible choice. Putting students first? Fortunately, AB 928 seems to recognize the flaws in the ADT system. So what did lawmakers do to solve the problem? They created a committee to oversee the ADT. My dear colleagues in academia, I take pride in serving my campus through committee work, but let me sincerely ask you: what systemic problems have indeed been improved in a committee? I think the most I've accomplished in a committee is settling the debate on whether or not to use Oxford commas in course descriptors (only slightly kidding). Even if we assume that AB 928 will instigate improved outcomes for students and that the ADT is a successful system, the bill does not appear to consider organizational capacity (time and money) to implement the bill at the local college level. There are estimates that it will cost each of the CCC campuses approximately $1.5 million to align with the bill. Alignment with this bill will surely require some curriculum adjustments. Combine this with AB 111, which necessitates substantial curriculum adjustments, and I imagine there will be an unprecedented wave of curriculum revisions systemwide. To be clear, I am all for creating more accessible pathways to transfer. There is undoubtedly more to be done to improve the outcomes of our incredibly diverse students. The CCC system is the largest higher education system in the United States. Any extensive system will have complexities, flaws, and challenges. Systems are infinite, and sustainment and improvement are ongoing tasks. The challenge with system improvement and system change is that more harm can be done when we solve the wrong problem. In the case of AB 928, I think we have a faulty problem diagnosis, and more damage will be done with students feeling the most considerable impact. I certainly hope I'm wrong, and perhaps only time will tell. As a faculty advisor, I have sometimes sat with a student in my office for 3 hours trying to decode the process, only to hit dead end after dead end (and with that, I see the merits of AB 111). I believe AB 928 has great intention, but as the aphorism goes, many undesirable paths are paved with good intentions. AB 928 is forcing students onto a traffic-jammed highway to succeed, except there are no off-ramps to the CSUs. Putting students first.