Implications of State and Local Policy on Community College Transfer in California

William E. Piland, Lynn Ceresino Neault


Lower division transfer preparation for the university has been the primary mission of community colleges since their inception creating an important pathway to baccalaureate degree attainment for many students who may not otherwise have the opportunity for higher education. Once considered fairly straightforward, the transfer pathway has become overly complex and difficult for students to navigate. The underlying issues with community college transfer are multifaceted and profound, and often the focus of much attention by public policy makers. This study explored the extent to which the complexity with transfer is rooted in flawed state and local policy coupled with insufficient capacity to meet the growing demand for postsecondary education at many public universities in California. Interviews with key players in higher education in the state, a focus group of community college professionals involved with transfer, observations of meetings where transfer was discussed and a review of state and local documents concerned with transfer comprised the methodology of this study. Results suggest that legislative interference in the transfer pathway, university elitism and selectivity, uneven placement of state resources, the confines of the state master plan for higher education and inadequate capacity at the state universities all contribute to damaging the transfer pathway.
This embedded case study examined the transfer pathway in one large region in southern California in the first decade of the 21st century.The study investigated the implications of flawed public policy and insufficient capacity at some public universities on the development of local policy, and the unintended consequences for transfer students who are denied admission to transfer.Further, the study described how these policy decisions are hindering access and equity in the public postsecondary education system in the region under investigation. Amidst fluctuating economic conditions, the public higher education system in California has struggled to meet increasing enrollment demand. With the ongoing deterioration in state appropriations for higher education in California, the need for increased baccalaureate degree attainment to meet the future economic demands of the state is more critical than ever.

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International Journal of Higher Education
ISSN 1927-6044 (Print) ISSN 1927-6052 (Online) Email:

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