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Editorial: Higher transfer admissions would benefit both UC, low-income students

By Editorial Board

July 22, 2018 11:11 pm

The University of California has long been stuck between a rock and a hard place. It finally seems to have found a way to transfer out of that position, though.

The UC released admission figures for fall 2018 last week, with data showing it had admitted more than 28,000 transfer students this year, including more than 24,500 California students, a nearly 2,000-student increase from 2017.

The spike in transfer admissions follows a push from Gov. Jerry Brown and the state legislature. Brown has advocated for the transfer pathway as a cost-effective way to attain a college degree.

The UC has made strides on its own end to improve transfer admission numbers over the years. Earlier this year, for example, the University announced it would guarantee admission for California community college students who meet certain course and GPA requirements.

Transfer students are bound to be the future of the UC – even Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, UCLA’s vice provost for enrollment management, has said so. And that’s the right approach for the UC to take. Admitting a greater number of transfer students reduces the strain on the system’s limited resources and makes the University more accessible to California’s community college students.

Institutional strain is a large reason for the UC’s admission woes. The University’s funding crunch nearly forced it to hike tuition again this year to account for a backlog of infrastructure maintenance projects and an underfunded pension fund. Brown’s initiative to admit 10,000 additional California residents into the UC by 2018 further taxed the system, with the cost and availability of housing – not to mention course crowdedness – ballooning.

Admitting more transfer students could help alleviate the resource binds. Since transfer students spend less time at university, their demand for resources, be that housing or class space, is lower than a freshman admit’s. Consequently, the University and the state can spend less on the average student while producing the same number of graduates in a year and keeping educational quality stable.

A policy of higher transfer admits would at the same time make higher education more accessible to California’s low-income students. Most UC transfer students are from low-income families and half of of them are first-generation college students. Nearly two-thirds pay no tuition.

Most importantly, these students graduate at a rate 25 percent above the national college graduation rate. In just five years, UC graduates from low-income families end up making, on average, more than their parents did when the students enrolled in college. The UC is clearly a vehicle for class mobility in California, and a higher transfer admission rate would only further boost those credentials.

Of course, such a policy might seem to make the UC even more inaccessible to high school students, since it would effectively require the UC to decrease freshman admission rates from what they normally would be. But transfer students spend less time at UC campuses, meaning any increase in transfer admits would require only a marginal decrease in freshman admits. In the pursuit of a higher education system that actively aids low-income students, that’s an acceptable sacrifice for the UC to make.

The promise of California’s community college program is that students who cannot afford a four-year university can still enjoy the benefits of a college degree. It’s only fitting the UC should open its door to make that promise a reality for Californians.

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