Making the case for improved transfer inclusivity

Kelly Baird/File

If you aren’t living under a rock, you’ve seen at least one meme on some outlets ranking UCLA as the No. 1 public university. These rankings are largely arbitrary, but it’s hard to ignore one area where UCLA seems to be far ahead of the curve — the inclusivity and promotion of transfer students. More than 4,400 of us UC Berkeley transfers were admitted for the 2018-19 school year. We all want to contribute to UC Berkeley, bringing nontraditional experiences and a unique potential to impact the campus. Unfortunately, certain conditions at UC Berkeley are not conducive to equity for transfer students.

As a general guiding principle, basic-needs efforts are intrinsically linked here — 45 percent of transfer students are the first in their family to go to college, compared to 20 percent of incoming freshman. The same new student services data also reveals that transfer students constitute the supermajority of commuters — an academic status that can seriously hinder integration into the campus community. Commutership is but one dimension in transfer student affairs that demonstrates the need to tailor a committed approach of proactive inclusivity.

For instance, 54 percent of transfer students nationally “indicated that engaging with clubs, activities, and friends was a challenge, while 52 percent indicated that ‘fitting in’ was a challenge.” And with our one-up culture here at Cal, where professional clubs relish exclusive acceptance rates well below UC Berkeley’s general admission rate, the numbers might just be worse.

While new freshmen and transfers share a mutual fate of likely rejection emails, transfers do not have four years to continuously put themselves out there. And unlike schools like UCLA that have a multitude of transfer-specific clubs based on interest and major, our only registered student organization in this territory is the Re-entry and Transfer Student Association.

For many new students, community-based campus housing is inseparable from the process of developing social networks and feeling integrated. This necessity becomes difficult to meet when only 27 percent of transfers end up living in university housing. UCLA, meanwhile, is able to house 53 percent of its new transfers. While some might think comparing the two is making a false comparison, with UC Berkeley’s growing housing crisis, this difference in campus housing needs to be acknowledged.

But there’s no question that UCLA fosters superior incentives for its new transfers. Its campus espouses an entire housing facility dedicated to new transfers. UC Berkeley, in contrast, is looking at nine potential new housing sites, still with no current plans of having a transfer-dedicated facility. The university’s only transfer-exclusive housing space is currently a single floor of Maximino Martinez Commons — a project started by the ASUC, not the campus administration.

Such salient issues go largely unaddressed, often because the UC, state and community college systems have become obsessed with pumping out degrees on time. And for good reason — UC Berkeley transfer graduation rates are the highest in the UC but are still notably 15 percent lower than that of four-year students. But inclusivity remains valuable independent of degree times, naturally contingent upon more meaningful factors such as happiness, well-being and guarantee of success after college.

Now, tackling many of these issues is not easy. The transfer community is extremely diverse in circumstances, comprising virtually all re-entry students and student-parents, as well as the supermajority of long-distance commuters. Bridges Multicultural Resource Center is a transfer-inclusive organization worth emulating, equipped with transfer directors for each individual cultural branch and dedicated transfer programming.

Our team of transfer advocates in the ASUC president’s office believes in a multifaceted approach, with clear-intentioned goals for the near future. UC Berkeley transfer students need:

  1. An all-transfer living facility. We need to at least match other UCs, such as UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz, in providing housing specifically for transfer students.
  2. Greater inclusivity in professional and recreational spaces by incentivizing registered student organizations to do more transfer-specific outreach in membership and leadership.
  3. Commuter students often rely on the purchase of a $385/semester parking pass. We hope to secure funds to pilot a program that helps mitigate these costs, especially since commuter students often come from economically disadvantaged situations.
  4. Guaranteed representation in student government through a model ensuring that at least one senate position is transfer-guaranteed. ASUC consistently has few or zero seats filled by transfer students— a clear issue when they make up nearly a fourth of the campus population.
  5. Better space accommodations for nontraditional student spaces, which are inexcusably small and underresourced, such as the Transfer Student Center, which shares its standard classroom-sized space with the Student Parent Center.
  6. Thoughtfully planned and transfer-centered new student events. We hope to work with new student services and admissions to continuously improve transfer day and aspects of Golden Bear Orientation, so that fewer transfer students report that programming feels catered toward freshmen. Transfer day also needs a significant boost, along with a new transfer student handbook.

The bottom line is that we can and should do more to reflect changing demographics and circumstances through meaningful, fitting policy. It’s not about just modeling and adapting UCLA or other UC campuses’ transfer policies, but as the No. 1 public university, we can do a better job of making new transfers feel like a No. 1 priority.

Neil McClintick is a transfer student at UC Berkeley, the ASUC transfer advocacy director and a former Daily Cal columnist. Lily Green is a transfer student at UC Berkeley and an ASUC transfer advocate. Fares Alharazy is a transfer student at UC Berkeley and an ASUC transfer advocate.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this op-ed incorrectly stated that more than 19,000 transfer students were admitted to UC Berkeley for the 2018-19 academic year. In fact, nearly 4,500 transfers were admitted that year.