California community college transfers should receive equal treatment under pandemic residency guidelines

Illustration of a bear holding the state of California, looking at students
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of campus, many students have been forced to return to their family homes. They have to worry not only for their health and safety, but also for their residency status if their family lives out of state. In general, undergraduate students with in-state residency for tuition purposes are not able to leave California for more than six weeks without risking losing their in-state status. For a student used to paying in-state rates, the loss of residency could make UC tuition entirely unaffordable — $30,000 more per year.

Luckily, the UC Board of Regents thoughtfully made an exemption for University of California, or UC, students who studied remotely. According to the UC Board of Regents Residency Guidelines site, 

“Eligible students who studied remotely during 2020-21 may be eligible to qualify for residency in 2021-22 effective with the term in which they physically reside in California. Consistent with the amendment, these students will be asked to provide legal indicia demonstrating their intent to stay in California as soon as is practicable. […] The enrollment in courses for the Fall, Winter, and Spring terms delivered via remote instruction during the 2020-21 academic year will serve as a replacement for physical presence.” 

I am grateful for the UC Board of Regents foresight in writing this rule. Regrettably, however, the exception only applies to UC students, not California community college students.

As an incoming transfer, this means it will not be financially practicable for me to attend the university past January of this coming academic year, due to my unplanned physical absence from the state for more than six weeks during the pandemic.

My case is just a single example. The exclusion of California community college students from this exemption has undoubtedly affected other transfer students as well, who constitute upward of 30% of UC Berkeley’s incoming class for the 2021-2022 academic year.. These students are more likely to be first-generation, low-income and from underrepresented backgrounds than traditional first-year students.

I admit that I have not lived in California my whole life. I moved to the state two years ago, at age 19, as a recent college dropout. I initially settled in San Francisco, where I lived independently for the first time and found a stable job. I explored the surrounding valleys, mountains and coastline, and grew to love my new home state from the sunny beaches of the Southland to the fog-shrouded hills of San Francisco. 

As I continued to establish roots in California, I realized that I did not have to be a dropout forever. Thanks to the state’s longstanding commitment to educating its residents, finishing my degree within the UC system was a real, feasible possibility. I began taking classes through a California community college with the goal of eventually transferring. 

Unfortunately, my stay in California was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was forced to return to Pennsylvania, the place where I grew up. While I cherished my time with my family in Philadelphia, I longed to return to my new life in California as soon as the pandemic was over. In the meantime, fortunately, my community college adapted quickly, allowing me to continue to make progress, albeit remotely, toward my transfer goal. 

After a year of continuous coursework, I am now poised to enter the UC system and thrive as a junior transfer. 

The UC system has done an amazing job of being welcoming and supportive of new transfers, and I appreciate that greatly. I would not even have had the opportunity to attend a UC campus had the UC Regents not made accepting and including transfer students a systemwide priority as they have done. The promise of California’s education system is that no matter where we come from or how much money we have, anyone who works hard can have the opportunity to attend a world-class UC campus and lead California toward a brighter future. 

It is a powerful promise, and one that I am deeply grateful for. Yet the pandemic of this past year has challenged all students, transfers especially — potentially jeopardizing that promise. 

I implore the UC Board of Regents to consider granting students of California community colleges equality under pandemic-induced residency guidelines, extending to them the same treatment that UC students receive. I encourage current UC Berkeley students and transfers to reach out to the UC Board of Regents and president of the UC system Michael Drake to support this extension of the amended guidelines. 

Together, we can ensure that the powerful promise of the California education system — and at its core, the California dream — stays alive for all students, no matter where their personal and educational journeys may have begun.

Nathan Leung is an incoming transfer student at the University of California. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.