Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Taking an Alternate Route

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Taking an Alternate Route

Article excerpt

As competition increases to gain admission into the University of California system, more students are going the community-college route.

BERKELEY, CALIF.

Maria Pecot grew up in Berkeley, Calif., attended Berkeley High School, and always hoped to attend the University of California at Berkeley. But four years ago, she found herself at a very different college Vista Community College just a few blocks away from the university. In 1998, when she was a high school senior, Pecot realized her grades weren't high enough to qualify for UC Berkeley. She tried Humboldt State University up in redwood country four hours north of Berkeley, where the classes were easy enough but the student body was not very diverse. So she moved back to Berkeley and transferred to Vista, knowing that would help her chances of transferring into the school of her choice.

"Vista has a really high transfer rate. I figured it would be a plus," says Pecot, 23, who transferred successfully in the fall of 2000, and finished her degree in political science at Berkeley last December.

Community colleges have always offered a second-chance route to the University of California for students who couldn't qualify as freshmen - and even some students who were eligible for the UC system, but whose credentials weren't strong enough for a freshman seat at the two most competitive campuses, UC Berkeley and UCLA.

But now the secret is out. The Berkeley and UCLA admissions offices, flooded with freshman admissions applications, find themselves turning away more high school students every year. And with the college-age population on the increase, competition to transfer is harder than ever, putting pressure not just on the two elite campuses, but on the system as a whole.

Four years ago, for example, Berkeley received 7,750 transfer applications and UCLA received 9,934. This year, 10,018 students applied to transfer to Berkeley and a record 13,113 sought to get into UCLA.

At UCLA, about 80 percent of transfer students come from California community colleges, says admissions director Vu Tran. Many of them enter through UCLA's Transfer Alliance Program, a partnership with about 40 two-year colleges. Under that program, students who complete an enriched curriculum at the college are given priority by Tran and his staff when they evaluate applications. "Their admission rate is much higher, over 90 percent," Tran says.

Berkeley has a similar program, called the Cooperative Admissions Program (CAP). Students in CAP are guaranteed admission if they do well at a partner community college and take a pattern of courses approved by Berkeley. But, as a result of increased demand, that program has gotten more stringent: the GPA required to transfer has been lifted from 3.0 to 3.5 - and it applies only to the College of Letters and Science, not to specialized majors like business and engineering.

California has 108 community colleges. This year, 14,655 transfer students, about 90 percent of the total number of transfer students, are coming from California community colleges. But a disproportionate number of those transfers come from community colleges situated near one of the campuses or in wealthy neighborhoods, or from those colleges that have special transfer agreements with the university. So, just as there is a pecking order among UC campuses with Berkeley and UCLA at the top, there is something of a hierarchy among community colleges as well.

Take Vista College, for example. "I get calls from Texas, New York, all over the country," says Nancy Delaney, coordinator of the career transfer center at Vista College, "people saying if I come to your college can I get guaranteed admission? And the ones who are local don't want to go anywhere but Berkeley."

Back in 1990, only six Vista students transferred to Berkeley, but by last fall that number had risen to 35, a high number for a relatively small community college - Vista enrolls less than 4,500 students a year. …

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