Will priority enrollment improve student success?

The Santa Monica College Board of Trustees recently enacted a new enrollment priority system to aid certain groups in need of transfer assistance. A report from the Office of Institutional Research identified groups who, according to their transcripts, were ready to transfer to a four-year institution, but did not.

The Board of Governors approved a system-wide enrollment priority system in September to allow transfers for career technical education and basic skills development. The Board also wanted to encourage students to identify their educational objectives, and to follow a more focused path. This plan would aim to ensure access for new students, and create incentives to make progress and complete their educational goals.

Veterans, students in the military, and foster-care youth currently receive first priority enrollment. Second priority is given to students in Extended Opportunity Programs and Services and Disabled Student Programs Services.

Continuing students lose priority if they earn more than 100 units. Districts would be able to make an exception for the 100-unit limit, for those in high-unit majors or programs. They do not include the Black Collegiate Club and other activity clubs on campus, according to Teresita Rodriguez, vice president of enrollment at SMC.

“We did make a recommendation for black and Latino College students but pulled it,” Rodriguez said. “We're waiting for the statewide priority enrollment, but we will revisit it in spring 2013.”

The California Community College Chancellor's Office put together a task force to increase transfer, degree and certificate completion, and to help close the achievement gap for historically underrepresented students.

“There are a lot of societal and economic issues that really don't foster the progression of minority students,” said Suzanne McDonald, a counselor at the college. “Their prior schools give nominal education and they have to take remedial courses.”

The transfer rates of the four largest racial/ethnic groups are 61.5 percent whites, 56.5 percent Asians, 35.7 percent Hispanics, and 34.2 percent blacks, according to the report.

“They're designated to take care of siblings, parents are out of work and if they lose their enrollment priority they don't get the classes they need and they lose their motivation,” McDonald said.

Eighty-four percent of all class enrollments are transferable courses, and success rates have increased to 70.8 percent in 2011. Associate degrees awarded dropped slightly to 104, less than in 2008. However, the number of certificates increased by 500 percent between 2009 and 2011.

There were 979 SMC students who transferred to a UC and there were 1,006 transfers to CSU for a total of 1,875 in the past four years. SMC experienced decreasing trends in transfers in 2007-11, but the college recovered and returned to the transfer levels experienced in 2007-2008, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

“Higher risk kids that are assessing at lower levels need a little more access to continuity of classes so they can move on from one class to the next [to achieve higher success rates],” said McDonald.

Some external factors that limited transfers included budget cuts, changes in admission standards, impact status and limited capacity. For example, CSUs did not accept transfers in 2009-10, which might explain the drastic reduction in that year.

Recent CSU admission policy gives priority admission to local-area students. For instance, a student who lives in Fullerton would have priority admission at CSU-Fullerton over an SMC student with similar credentials. Schools that are considered local CSUs for SMC students include Northridge, Dominguez Hills and Los Angeles. This policy impacts students that may want to transfer from SMC to Long Beach, San Francisco State and San Jose.

The 2009-10 report showed that the SMC transfer rate was 49.5 percent. The college had a transfer rate of 51.9 percent by 2010-11, an increase of 2.4 percent.

As part of a plan for student success, the CCCCO has approved system-wide enrollment priority that helps colleges prioritize academic and career technical education courses over those primarily offered for personal enrichment.