Keith Curry, Ed.D., President/CEO Compton College

Celebrating commencement is one of my favorite traditions at Compton College. I especially like to hear about the achievements of students who pushed past obstacles and completed their goals. But for every success story, I know several other students were not able to finish their classes and graduate. As President/Chief Executive Officer of Compton College and a longtime educator, it is my job to ensure all students are prepared for a bright future, and that includes specifically fighting for Black student success. I make no apologies about that. It’s time to take that extra step and help this student group graduate and transfer. “Business as usual” is not working. At Compton College, we saw a sharp decrease in degrees and certificates awarded to Black students between 2018-19 and 2019-20. Clearly, Black students are being left out. The graduation problem is real. Now what are we going to do about it? In this inaugural article of my “Unapologetically Fighting for Black Student Success” series, we will look at transfer paths for community college students and determine how we can get Black students on track to their own success stories.

A Path to Success
Our higher education system makes transferring to a university and earning a bachelor’s degree unnecessarily challenging for transfer students, especially when you compare their application process to that for high school students. For high schoolers, there is one pathway for admission to our public universities: they complete one set of course requirements, called A-G, that makes them eligible for University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) campuses.

For California community college students, however, there is no one clear roadmap of course requirements that makes them eligible for the UC and CSU. Our public colleges and universities have created a myriad of different requirements that make transfer students eligible for campuses. It has left our students lost and confused as they try to piece together a plan that will make them competitive.

The majority end up taking several excess courses and spending more time and money for admission to multiple campuses. And not enough students are achieving their transfer goals. At Compton College, we have created guided pathways to create a faster route to graduation, transfer, and good-paying jobs through Tartar Completion by Design. Students can see right away the courses they need now and how they align with expectations in the workforce and their transfer institution. Through this framework, and working with other institutions, the academic path needs to be streamlined, clear and accessible to raise graduation and transfer rates. This needs to be done now.

Now if California community college Black students complete their degrees and certificates, where are they transferring? Only about 3% of Black community college students transfer after two years at community college, and only 36% after six years – meaning the majority of Black students are not transferring even after six years. For those who do transfer, trends show a spike in students transferring to for-profit colleges.

These for-profit institutions can come off a lot more welcoming than our public colleges and universities. Many of us are familiar with their catchy songs on radio and television commercials, where they promise a smooth transition to their institution, flexibility for working students, and a better career at the end. What is less known to the students who attend is that many of these institutions have dismal graduation rates. Students often leave these for-profit institutions worse off than when they started, in far more debt than they can handle and without a degree to show for it in the end.

Transfer Collaboration
Our students fare better at public universities, but their journey to a bachelor’s degree is not without strife. Many students find that some of their courses don’t transfer, so they must sometimes start over – repeating classes and spending even more time and money earning a degree.

It is painfully clear that the road to a bachelor’s degree is paved with systemic barriers. When what is traditionally seen as a four-year degree, becomes eight years or more, and when less than half of our Black students earn their degrees, our public colleges and universities are failing Black students.

Our state must look internally at the route from community college into university. The California Community Colleges, the UC, the CSU, and our state policymakers must all take responsibility for the barriers to transfer. Transfer is not just a community college issue, and we do our students a disservice when we act in a silo or when we point the blame elsewhere. We each play a role in these dismal success rates.

There is currently a bill in the California Senate that will foster greater collaboration between our public colleges and universities. AB-928 Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act of 2021: Associate Degree for Transfer Intersegmental Implementation Committee would create a committee to oversee the process of simplifying transfer and require the UC and CSU to consolidate their pathways into one general education pathway. It would also automatically place students on the Associate Degree for Transfer pathway, a transfer path that has a proven success rate for students that guarantees them admission to the CSU with junior standing, and is accepted at several Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Besides AB-928, the state of California should provide additional funding to the CSU and UC’s to ensure all transfer eligible California community college students have a spot at our public institutions. If not, the private for-profit institutions will continue to prey upon our Black students.

Closing the Loop
AB-928 would be a major reform for California’s higher education system, so, of course it scares people. But “business as usual” is not the answer and continuing the ways we currently operate means that more Black students will lose out on the opportunity to earn their degrees and build better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. We don’t need the status quo – we need agitators who are willing to pass and implement bold reforms in the name of Black student success. Furthermore, we need to ask ourselves why aren’t students transferring, and why Black students specifically aren’t transferring. Then work with our local CSU and UC’s to change this pattern. I am excited about Compton College and CSU Dominguez Hills partnership, where we just completed a data-sharing agreement between our two organizations, and are beginning to looking critically at our programs and services to support and improve student transfer and success. The partnership with CSU Dominguez Hills and Compton College is led by Dr. Thomas Parham, President, CSU Dominguez Hills, and myself. We both understand the need for transfer and we both are committed to improving student success.

When we succeed, our students do too. I know that for every student who graduates, there are several who should have been counted in that number but did not get the support needed to do so. This is especially true for community college students, who face innumerable barriers to success. I will continue this discussion next week, taking a deeper look at the data to make a meaningful impact on the success of Black students.