New UC transfer policy focuses on degrees while sidestepping economic realities

Olivia Staser/Staff

On April 11, the UC system signed a landmark memorandum of understanding with the California Community Colleges system, or CCC, that will provide guaranteed transfer admission to all UC campuses for individuals who meet certain requirements. This new policy could increase UC transfer intake by as much as 15 percent, while satisfying both systems’ desire to pump out more and more degrees.

UC President Napolitano and CCC Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley have no doubt struck a remarkable deal here. Yet beneath this romantic vision of educational equity lurks a complete disregard for the needs of transfer students once they actually arrive at UC, especially as enrollment growth continues to spike.

Having transferred from De Anza community college myself, this boost in transfer pathways is long-awaited, especially seeing that CCC represents the largest education system in the entire country. California’s noteworthy transfer pathway allows for greater accessibility of higher education, as transfer students make up far higher rates of first-generation and working-class students.

For me, De Anza represented a safety net, and it is realistically the only reason that I’m even able to call myself a Golden Bear. The new memorandum is crucial for dispelling the mythological narrative that community college produces less-intelligent students who ultimately succumb to laziness or failure.

We like to pretend these stigmas don’t subconsciously guide our perceptions of community college and transfer students, but I can think of two instances in the last week alone that demonstrate that we still have a long way to go to eliminate these biases. When I was campaigning during my unsuccessful bid for ASUC Senate, a potential voter asked why the UC system wants to take in more transfer students if they don’t have to work as hard for UC admission. And only a day after this encounter, a group of 14-year-old prospective students mockingly said “transfer students” and laughed when myself and a few others were tabling for Transfer Pride Week.

These encounters exemplify the narrative that transfer students are less intelligent. The reality is that community college students have to work more hours to get by and actually perform at comparable rates to more “traditional” UC students once they transfer.

Despite these positives, there are some significant drawbacks to the new memorandum. Firstly, it does little to ensure that UCs have the proper funding and resources to provide housing, as well as sufficient academic and mental health resources to incoming students. The reality is that UC culture has increasingly become one of survival— instead of focusing on academics, 40 percent of students have to worry about experiencing food insecurity. Our state educational systems cannot continue to ignore upsetting indicators that the UC system is moving away from its stated mission of providing an affordable, accessible education system.

In the Mercury News’ coverage of the new memorandum, expanded transfer pathways is seen as a means of addressing exorbitant tuition costs. As a former community college student, I can attest to how much cheaper my education was than a traditional four-year timeline, paying only thousands per year. But the community college system should not be used an excuse to continue this privatization model of funding. Decades ago, attending the UC system was virtually tuition-free. We should be moving back in that direction, pushing for massive investment to improve the quality of education and welfare for attending students.

The UC system needs to be cognizant of transfer-student resources, especially as transfers increasingly constitute a much larger chunk of the student population. While I cannot speak for every single UC campus, it’s honestly shocking that transfers are alloted such few accommodations, considering that we constitute one-third of the student body. The reality is that every space, academic and otherwise, should have institutions and faculty in place that caters to the two-year, pressure-filled experience of being a UC Berkeley transfer.

Most students aren’t even aware that transfers now make up such a significant portion of the student body, and this is unlikely to change even as we continue to increase our transfer intake. The recent ASUC elections are symptomatic of this greater issue of inclusivity and visibility — of the 20 newly elected senators, not a single one is a transfer student. No substantial student body positions are specifically designed to prioritize UC Berkeley transfer students. UC Berkeley also lacks a dedicated transfer housing unit — something many other UCs have.

So of course we should praise greater accessibility of the UC system to disadvantaged community college students. But the UC system needs to take a step back and question if it’s adequately providing the resources transfer students need once they actually get to campus. Because transferring out is just the first in many steps to succeed.

Neil McClintick is a UC Berkeley junior transfer student studying political science. He is also a former columnist for The Daily Californian.