New bill means new headaches for Cal State transfer students

Beginning next year, a bill signed this past September by outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will guarantee transfer into the California State University system for thousands of California community college students. However, their CSU of choice may not be quite so easily secured.

Also known as the Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, SB 1440 is meant to simplify the transfer process to the CSU system that would theoretically save the state resources and students' time and money. However, many here at Santa Monica College did not originally support the bill and think that it only complicates the transfer process.

"If you wanted to fix transfer, this is not what I would've done," said Daniel Nannini Transfer Center Coordinator at SMC. Nannini, who initially wrote statements to legislators and newspapers against the bill, now finds himself a member of the bill's Implementation and Oversight Committee.

Although these degrees are supposed to make it easier to transfer, according to Nannini, these degrees could actually take students longer to complete.

The major components of these new transfer degrees would require that students meet the IGETC criteria, have a 2.0 grade point average, and complete 60 units amongst a minimum of 18 major units that are currently in the process of being defined by each school. Students could then transfer into the CSU system with junior status and would not be required to take any more than 60 additional semester units for majors requiring 120 units.

The confusion lies in the fact that, for certain majors, there are already ways to transfer that would allow students to bypass having to take so many major related courses. For example, psychology only requires 9 units of related coursework to transfer to most schools.

In addition, priority admissions for the SB 1440 transfer degrees are currently restricted to local campuses. For SMC students, local refers to Cal State Los Angeles, Northridge, and Dominguez Hills. This means that an SMC student wanting to transfer to Long Beach is better off suited attending a college within that campus's service area.

Students outside a CSU's service area would otherwise need a higher grade point average to qualify, but according to Nannini, specific details have yet to be finalized by the implementation committee.

Further, students could end up in the CSU system with a different major simply because their local campus may not offer the same program and are only required to provide priority admission to a similar major or area of emphasis.

The SB 1440 bill also needs to merge with existing local admission priority rules.

"Supposedly this was going to make it simpler and it's really not," said Nannini. "If they turned around and said the only way you're going to get into a CSU is with these, well that would force the issue."

He added, "I'm waiting to see what major this is necessarily going to be beneficial for."

A press release by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office points out that an annual average of 50,000 students currently transfer to the CSU system with an average of 80 semester units when only 60 are needed. However, Nannini feels this study does not reflect students who may need to take extra classes to maintain their financial aid and health insurance, let alone those students who are just trying to figure out what they want to do.

Eric Oifer, head of SMC's academic senate, echoes the same concerns. Currently, the degrees are still a work in progress, but Oifer states that SMC is advocating to remain flexible, particularly for those students who want to explore majors.

"Santa Monica College is one of the, if not the, premiere transfer community college in the state so what we have to say with regard to the implementation of this is important and I think we can impact the state-wide dialogue," said Oifer.

Along with SMC's own efforts to implement the makeup of these degrees, the state will also develop a number of model degrees that could be adopted by any transfer institute. At the same time, the state is pushing for colleges to align course numbering as a mechanism to fill these degrees because of the potential discrepancy between California's 112 Community Colleges. Approval priority will be given to the schools that use the state's model curriculum in an otherwise long approval process.

A tentative deadline is set for next May, or when students would start applying for the fall 2011 semester.

Many of these details have yet to be worked out through numerous district and state levels, and because the issue is still in the early implementation stage, the potential positive impact of SB 1440 has yet to be seen. Despite their qualms about the bill, both Oifer and Nannini remain hopeful.

"In today's environment this thing doesn't make any sense," said Nannini. "It might make sense 3 to 5 years from now."

"Getting one of these degrees will guarantee you entry," said Oifer. "That's a good thing in a time of diminishing resources."