Diversity and Democracy

Increasing Transfer Student Diversity in the Absence of Affirmative Action

In the coming years, jobs requiring at least an associate degree are projected to grow twice as fast as jobs requiring no college experience. We will not fill those jobs—or keep those jobs on our shores—without the training offered by community colleges. (Obama 2009)

With his recent focus on the role of community colleges in vocational training, President Barack Obama is sending an important message to the nation's potential students: go to college and develop job skills. But what are the implications of this message, particularly for students from low-income communities and communities of color who will be encouraged to pursue these vocational tracks? While the president's focus on higher education and on community colleges in particular should be applauded, it should also be accompanied by a broader focus on completion of four-year degrees, with attention to transfer pathways from two-year to four-year colleges and universities.

Some of today's best and brightest students begin their higher education careers in community colleges, and many could and should consider transferring to universities. But for this to happen, higher education officials need to ask what pathways are available to these students. The question is particularly pertinent for low-income students of color at a time when traditional levers for access such as affirmative action programs are becoming increasingly unavailable. Given current challenges, higher education must find new ways to ensure that a larger proportion of these students have the opportunity to pursue four-year degrees.

Challenges to Access

Increasing transfer rates for students of color is one of the biggest challenges that today's higher education institutions face. Ensuring equal opportunity is of utmost importance, yet recent changes to law and policy have affected higher education's ability to meet this goal.

In California, debate about access to higher education has raged for many years. In 1995, the Regents of the University of California instituted SP-1, barring race and gender as factors in admission decisions. While the regents rescinded SP-1 in 2001, Proposition 209—passed by the California electorate in 1996 to bar considerations of race, gender, and ethnicity in public employment and education—is still in effect. Both are clear examples of how serious and dangerous challenges to affirmative action can become (Chang and Kiang 2002). Bans on the use of race, gender, and ethnicity in college admissions had a devastating effect on the numbers of students of color who were admitted to selective research universities in California (Karabel 1999). For example, at the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA), admissions for underrepresented students dropped by 53 percent between 1995 and 1998 (California Watch 2012).

On the national stage, legal challenges to affirmative action such as Gratz v. Bollinger in 2003 have limited the uses of affirmative action in undergraduate admissions. Now with Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, argued in 2012 with a decision expected in 2013, the Supreme Court will once again decide whether and how affirmative action can be used in college admissions. If Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin results in a broad ban on affirmative action, institutions around the country may seek guidance from California and other states whose admissions practices have long been limited. Given the dramatic results in California, where admission rates for college-eligible underrepresented students have yet to recover to pre-1996 levels, it is clear that the elimination of affirmative action will continue to create inequities.

As a result of the challenges brought forth by Proposition 209, the California state legislature provided funding to ensure that the University of California would continue to develop programs that would maintain and increase diversity without the use of race, gender, and ethnicity. At UCLA, we used this funding to take a closer look at programs focusing on transfer students. The decision to focus on the transfer population was informed by the demographic profile of Los Angeles-area community colleges: within the nine community colleges of the Los Angeles Community College District, Latina/o, Asian American, and African American students comprise nearly 75 percent of enrolled students (California Community College Chancellor's Office 2011). UCLA's Center for Community College Partnerships was one outcome of this effort.

UCLA's Center for Community College Partnerships

The Center for Community College Partnerships (CCCP) was founded in 2001 with the intent of enhancing and developing pathways from community colleges to UCLA and the University of California system. Viewing transfer pathways as the combined and collaborative responsibility of two- and four-year colleges, CCCP focuses on strengthening partnerships between UCLA and local community colleges. With its commitment to social justice and diversity, CCCP works to increase transfer rates among underrepresented students by equipping them to view transfer as a legitimate and viable option.

CCCP's philosophy is that immersing community college students in the four-year educational environment helps prepare them for university life. To create opportunities for such immersion, we have developed cohort models that allow students to share their experiences, network, and create a supportive community in college while honoring the communities from which they come. Rather than asking students to erase or negate their life experiences, we provide culturally relevant learning communities that allow students to explore and develop their strengths and become more academically and socially engaged. We work with students who have the potential to excel despite having been pushed out of the education pipeline, including those from low-income, first-generation, and immigrant communities.

CCCP's programming is framed by critical race theory, which accounts for the role of race and racism in students' educational experiences (Solórzano 1998). By affirming students' sense that race is still salient even as higher education adopts race-blind policies, this approach helps students draw positively and productively on their lived experiences to authentically engage with their learning. Through critical race theory, we honor students' intersectional identities—which include race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, immigration status, and others—as we help them build routes to a four-year degree. For example, many students of color come from communities with deeply underresourced schools, and peer mentors who come from similar backgrounds and communities can play a critical role in showing these students a path to success. CCCP thus empowers students to use shared stories as guides through the postsecondary pipeline.

A Multi-Unit Approach

CCCP initiatives are organized into four units: the Scholars Program; the Peer Mentoring program; summer programs; and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiatives. Each unit supports students prior to transfer, upon entry, and throughout enrollment at the university.

The Scholars Program is designed to motivate, inform, and prepare students to transfer to selective top-tier research institutions like UCLA. Scholars participate in a year-long academic program that begins with participation in the summer programs (described below) and continues during the academic year with peer mentoring and three Saturday Academies. The Saturday Academies provide opportunities for students to explore specific topics related to transfer, such as personal statements, financial literacy, internships, and general success strategies. The academies also keep CCCP participants connected to UCLA and its programs. Using a cohort model, the Scholars Program tracks participants' progress throughout their enrollment at a community college.

The Peer Mentoring program links students currently enrolled at area community colleges to UCLA students who have successfully transferred from a community college. UCLA students serve as peer mentors at each of the area campuses, providing advice and guidance about the transfer experience and developing supportive relationships so community college students see firsthand the opportunities and challenges they will face when enrolling at UCLA or other universities.

CCCP summer programs provide students with an academic residential experience. The Summer Intensive Transfer Experience (SITE) program is a five- or six-day residential experience where faculty, admissions officers, counselors, and other staff teach students how to navigate the community college system and complete appropriate coursework so they can transfer to state universities. Building on the SITE program, SITE+ is a six-week non-residential program through which community college students prepare for the rigors of the university curriculum by enrolling in a UCLA summer session course for credit. Students receive scholarships that cover tuition and textbooks and participate in a supplementary program that includes peer learning, workshops, and exposure to academic research.

CCCP also participates in two STEM initiatives, the Jack Kent Cooke Scholars Program and the Santa Monica College (SMC)/UCLA Science Research Initiative. Both programs focus on increasing the number of students who major in STEM fields. The Cooke STEM Scholars Program connects students to UCLA prior to and during the admissions process through a summer academic residential program and several activities throughout the year, including STEM conferences and engagement with peer mentors. The SMC/UCLA Science Research Initiative identifies students interested in STEM and provides activities and workshops, peer mentors, and a summer program to connect them with other students enrolled in STEM fields.

All CCCP programs are designed to motivate students and introduce them to the university experience through exposure to a learning community and to the campus itself. The programs aim to help students develop a level of comfort that will minimize their "transfer shock" (Laanan 2001) and maximize their ability to adjust to a campus climate where their lived experiences may be discounted, particularly if they are students of color (Hurtado et al. 1998).

Successful Program Impacts

In its twelve years of existence, CCCP has established productive partnerships with community colleges throughout California, resulting in significant impact on transfer admissions. Admissions data from the Scholars Program and the SITE+ program highlight some of CCCP's successes.

Of the more than three hundred students the Scholars Program serves each year, over one hundred apply to UCLA annually, with 65 to 70 percent (the majority of whom self-identify as students of color) gaining admission. This compares favorably with UCLA's regular transfer admissions rate, which ranges from 25 to 30 percent. Of students who are not admitted to UCLA but apply to another school in the University of California system, between 95 and 100 percent are admitted to at least one campus. Some students do not apply to any state universities but successfully transfer to other institutions.

The SITE+ program has also been a tremendous success. For the last five years, all participating students have received grades of C or better in their summer courses. In summer 2011, twenty-two students (sixteen Latina/o students, three African American students, two Asian American students, and one white student) enrolled in and completed the SITE+ program. Nineteen of these students received a grade of A or A+, and three received a B or B+. To date, eleven of the twenty-two students who participated in SITE+ have transferred to a University of California campus, and one has transferred to a private university.


CCCP at UCLA is making a difference in students' lives on a daily basis. In collaboration with on-campus and off-campus partners, we couple high expectations with high levels of support, providing clear and positive pathways for students to succeed. We are driven to ensure that students from marginalized communities—who are typically encouraged to follow vocational paths as a result of the federal government's stance on workforce development—have access to selective research universities and opportunities to enrich the university community. Our country's success rests on their educational success. To learn more about CCCP, visit www.cccp.ucla.edu or contact us at aherrera@college.ucla.edu or dimpal.jain@csun.edu.


California Community College Chancellor's Office. 2011. Management Information Systems Data Mart. http://datamart.cccco.edu/Students/Enrollment_Status.aspx.

California Watch. 2012. "Despite Diversity Efforts, UC Minority Enrollment Down since Prop 209." http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/despite-diversity-efforts-uc-minority-enrollment-down-prop-209-15031.

Chang, Mitchell J., and Peter N. Kiang. 2002. "New Challenges of Representing Asian American Students in U.S. Higher Education." In The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education: Continuing Challenges for the Twenty-First Century, edited by William A. Smith, Philip G. Altbach, and Kofi Lomotey, 137–58. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Hurtado, Sylvia, Jeffrey F. Milem, Alma R. Clayton-Pedersen, and William R. Allen. 1998. "Enhancing Campus Climate for Racial/Ethnic Diversity: Educational Policy and Practice." Review of Higher Education 21 (3): 279–302.

Karabel, Jerome. 1999. "The Rise and Fall of Affirmative Action at the University of California." Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 25: 109–112.

Laanan, Frankie S. 2001. "Transfer Student Adjustment." New Directions for Community Colleges 114: 5–13.

Obama, Barack. 2009. "Excerpts of the President's Remarks in Warren, Michigan Today and a Fact Sheet on the American Graduate Initiative." July 14. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Excerpts-of-the-Presidents-remarks-in-Warren-Michigan-and-fact-sheet-on-the-American-Graduation-Initiative.

Solórzano, Daniel G. 1998. "Critical Race Theory, Race and Gender Microaggressions, and the Experiences of Chicana and Chicano Scholars." Qualitative Studies in Education 11 (1): 121–36.

Alfred Herrera is assistant vice provost for academic partnerships at the University of California–Los Angeles and Dimpal Jain is assistant professor in educational leadership at California State University–Northridge.

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