SMC's transfer rate still high

When students seek a community college that will ensure quality education with high transfer rates, Santa Monica College is one of their main choices, if not the choice. SMC is considered the best transfer school in the state, attracting more students with each semester. But with budget cuts and tuition increases, the transfer rate just might go down the drain. “All I really know is what they preach,” said Gabrielle Gordon, an SMC student, referring to the college’s “number one in transfer rates” to the University of California system. Santa Monica College is considered unbeatable when it comes to transferring to four-year schools. It’s a story circulated by word of mouth and advertised by the school through Big Blue Bus ads and the school’s website.

But what are the numbers and how exactly do they break down? Munir Haque, a former SMC student, had an interesting perspective. He believes that SMC takes in more students than it can support, resulting in overcrowding. This means that SMC has more students than some of the other 112 California community colleges, which results in the number of students that transfer being higher. “What you have to do is look at the percentages,” said Haque.

College Measures is a joint venture of the American Institutes of Research and the Matrix Knowledge Group. They created a chart of transfer success rate percentages for community colleges on a national scale. Compiling information sourced from the U.S. Department of Education, the research group created a “success” rating based on the percentage of students who graduated within three years or transferred to a four-year institution. The chart lists a few hundred schools with the research group’s success rating. So, what’s SMC’s success rate? It’s 48 percent.

That percentage should be higher, considering SMC’s prestige. After discovering SMC’s transfer success rate, it was time to look at the other schools for comparison.

Consider that out of 14,000 students transferring from California community colleges to the UC school system, almost 1,100 come from SMC, with the average school trickling off a few hundred in comparison. The nearest community college that beats SMC’s transfer success rate, according to College Measures’ success rating, is Victor Valley College in Victorville, with an 84 percent transfer rate.

The praise SMC receives for being the best possible school for transferring to a UC school is supported, with 1,053 students transferring from SMC in the 2009-10 school year. This amount is more by almost double than any other California community college, according to reports by the Postsecondary Education Commission.

But, while SMC has better transfer rates, and data directly supports that, students face a large obstacle to transferring. It is overcrowding, and a lot of community colleges are facing this issue.

Santa Monica College has to downsize and offer fewer classes because of the unjust budget cuts. With less core classes that are essential for quick transferral, such as general education courses, the remaining classes are getting crowded, and some students are being flat out turned away. Students are essentially going anywhere to take classes they need, even if that means attending more than one school.

Alex Contreras, a third-year SMC student, grew desperate for the English and math courses he needed. Since he’s in his third year, he doesn’t want to be at SMC much longer, and now attends both SMC and West L.A. College, in an effort to speed up the process. He believes it is getting harder for students like him to complete their education and transfer on time.

Getting ahead in this country is difficult, especially if you’re starting from the ground up. Community colleges are affordable bridges for students to cross to something greater on the other side. However, it comes down to money, and with tuition increases and course reductions, it has become a challenge for students to continue their education and transfer to a desired four-year university. The much needed access to affordable education is slowly corroding, and with it, so are the hopes for a great future for some students.

Yes, SMC has a great transfer rate that everyone can be proud of, but with the budget cuts plaguing the system, it will only be harder and harder for students to transfer. Perhaps, sooner than later, SMC’s success rate will reduce because of the unwarranted budget cuts and tuition fee increases. All we can do is hope for the best outcome, while treading through this economic crisis.