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Story Graduation Initiative

Smoothing Out the Transfer Process

Michelle Baik

Making the switch from a community college to a CSU campus isn’t easy for all transfer students. Which is why the CSU’s 23 campuses are doing more than ever to help ensure the success of these students.

Students on campus

Helping transfer students succeed at the CSU starts before they even enter the university. Photo courtesy of Sacramento State


One of the goals of the California State University's Graduation Initiative 2025 is a seemingly straightforward one: increase graduation rates for California community college students who transfer to a CSU campus to earn their bachelor's degree.

Reaching this goal, though, requires more than simply providing support once a student enters the university.

In fact, the process of ensuring more transfer students are prepared for success—meaning they stick with their studies and go on to graduate—should begin well before they start classes. Here are some of the specific ways three CSU campuses are working to improve graduation rates for those who transfer to their school:

Sacramento State: Working to Eliminate Barriers to Course Enrollment

One roadblock many transfer students encounter is difficulty getting into the classes they need to graduate.

Because these students—and particularly those who are first-generation—are so focused on meeting the requirements for transferring to the CSU, "they're often surprised to find out that once they are admitted, there's more work to be done in order to enroll in certain classes," explains Janet Hecsh, Ph.D., professor of education and interim associate dean for faculty and research in the College of Business Administration at Sacramento State.

That's why Sacramento State launched its Collaborative Opportunity for Student Advancement (COSA) Project six years ago. The program helps facilitate transfer and progress-to-degree for students coming from the Los Rios Community College system.

When COSA started, leaders of the project knew that many transfer students aren't aware of the Writing Placement for Juniors (WPJ), a writing assessment test that places transfer students in an advanced writing course that's required for graduation, until right before they start the fall semester.

Because they don't know about the test earlier, many can't enroll in the required advanced writing course until the following semester. By pushing a required course off even one semester, it may take longer for students to finish their degrees.

To eliminate this problem, COSA began inviting transfer students to workshops where they can learn about graduation requirements and also create a writing portfolio using work they did at their community college.

The portfolio, which is assessed by Sacramento State faculty and staff prior to student orientation, is an alternative path that enables students to enroll in advanced writing courses in their first semester, eliminating any potential delay.

"COSA provides an early opportunity for transfer students—particularly those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities—to demonstrate their preparation for advanced writing," says Dr. Hecsh.

CSU Northridge: Exposing Community College Students to CSU Campus Life

CSU Northridge's new grant for the Abriendo Caminos, or Opening Pathways, project will provide academic and personal support to some community college students who are currently attending the College of the Canyons and Los Angeles Pierce College, located in the Los Angeles area, and who are interested in attending CSU Northridge.

The focus of the project is to eliminate the achievement gap for Latino and low-income students in particular and to encourage them to pursue fields where both groups are underrepresented, namely animation, graphic arts, accounting, business, marketing, nursing and manufacturing systems engineering.

"English and math readiness is a big issue for transfer students, so we are targeting those two areas," says Juana Mora, Ph.D., Abriendo Caminos project director at CSU Northridge. CSUN students will provide tutoring in English and math to the transfer students in the program and serve as mentors and guides to life at the campus.

Potential transfer students can also meet with faculty and students in their chosen major. Once they arrive at CSUN, students will have faculty mentors and participate in learning and support communities.

"Finding someone who believes in them is really important, whether a faculty member or another student," says Dr. Mora.

CSU East Bay: Transfer Students Helping Transfer Students

Starting in winter 2016-2017, CSU East Bay will partner with four nearby community colleges to launch Transfer Connections, a pilot program pairing eligible community college students with CSU East Bay transfer "ambassadors" who have successfully made the transition themselves from the same community college.

An expansion of CSU East Bay's Smooth Transitions program, the project will include campus visits, workshops, check-in e-mails and phone calls, and online chats between student ambassadors and community college students to help demystify and explain the transfer process, according to Diana Balgas, Ed.D., executive director of Transfer Student Programs at CSU East Bay.

The transfer ambassadors will provide underserved, non-traditional community college students with the information and guidance necessary to navigate through the CSU application and transfer process. 

Student Success; Access