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Easier path from community college to Cal State, report says

More California community college students earn special transfer degrees but many still confused about program

The number of community college students who earned degrees that streamline entry into Cal State grew significantly last year, but too many students still are unaware of the transfer program, according to a report released Monday.

Nearly 12,000 students earned associate's degrees that eased transfer to Cal State schools in 2013-14, double the number from 2012-13 and up from about 800 students in 2011-12, according to the report from the state Legislative Analyst's Office.

The transfer program stems from 2010 legislation that required community colleges to develop two-year degrees known as associate degrees for transfer. Students who earn the degree are guaranteed admission to a Cal State bachelor's program (but not a specific campus) that can be completed with an additional two years -- 120 units total -- of coursework.

The legislation set system-wide and campus-wide targets and required the Legislative Analyst to provide progress reports.   

The latest report found that California's 112 community colleges and Cal State's 23 campuses have made progress in developing the special transfer degrees and coordinating curriculum. But some community colleges still lag in offering degrees in popular majors, while some Cal State campuses have been recalcitrant in accepting some majors, the report found.

And despite outreach efforts, many community college students either are unaware of the transfer degree or are confused, believing they have met requirements when they haven't, the report found.

Additionally, there has been little information about whether students are being admitted to their preferred four-year campus and major, and if they're graduating on time.

"Many students are confused about transfer reform, and challenges remain in student tracking and verification," Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor wrote.

But all involved "are making good-faith efforts to comply with statutory goals ... and new education planning tools hold promise to improve student awareness, advising, tracking and verification."

Education advocates said they were pleased at the progress but urged the systems to do a better job of getting information to students about the program.

"We want to continue to see growth, and communication is the key," said Audrey Dow, spokeswoman for the Campaign for College Opportunity, a key backer of the original legislation. "Every campus can do a lot more to promote the degree." 

Community colleges Chancellor Brice Harris is working aggressively with campuses to improve the numbers, said spokesman Paul Feist. 

Cal State enrolls more than half of the state's community college students. System-wide, community colleges have developed about 1,600 transfer degrees in majors such as business administration, history, music, chemistry and computer science.

Nearly 7,000 students with transfer degrees enrolled at a Cal State campus in 2013-14, up from 450 in 2011-12, said Cal State spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp.

"We are seeing an exponential increase in the number of students coming through program, but it still continues to be a work in progress," he said.

 For more higher education news, follow me @carlariveralat

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