California community college system inks transfer agreements with 9 historically black schools

Leaders of California's vast community college system on Tuesday approved a program aimed at making it easier for students to transfer to historically black colleges and universities in other parts of the country at a time when seats at the state's own public universities have gotten harder to come by.

Under a deal brokered by Chancellor Brice Harris' staff and approved by the system's governing board, nine historically black schools in the South and Midwest have promised to admit all transfer students who have completed certain prescribed courses at California's 112 two-year colleges with a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 or higher.

The agreements, set to take effect in the fall, are designed to reduce the time it takes students to accumulate enough course credits to move to a four-year school and then to earn their baccalaureates by making sure the work they do in California is recognized by the historically black institutions. Mismatches between the content of lower-division courses at community colleges and the same classes at four-year schools often make it hard for students to meet transfer entrance requirements or cause them to lose credits.

"This is very important for our students," Joseph Bielanski Jr., a member of the systems Board of Governors, said of the agreements. "It's a way of building pathways that are clear to the students so they can have a variety of opportunities now to get their education."

Individual community colleges throughout the U.S. have created their own compacts with historically black colleges, most of which also have transfer pacts with the two-year schools in their home states. But California's arrangement is believed to be the first of its kind between a community college system and multiple historically black institutions of higher learning, Paige Marlatt Dorr, a spokeswoman for the chancellor, said.

"This may be a model that can be used by other states in the nation to look at HBCUs to provide meaningful opportunities for access and educational attainment," George Cooper, executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, said at Tuesday's meeting in Sacramento.

California's community college system is the nation's largest. African-Americans make up about 7 percent of the 2.3 million students enrolled. In 2011, the last year for which statistics were available, less than half of one percent of the 112,327 students who transferred from a community college in California to a four-year school opted to complete their studies at one of the nation's 105 historically black colleges and universities, some of which have been facing declining enrollments.

Though the transfer agreements are with HBCUs, the program is open to students of all races and ethnicities.

The nine schools are Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas; Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri; Dillard University in New Orleans; Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina; Wiley College in Marshall, Texas; Fisk University in Nashville; and Stillman College, Talladega College and Tuskegee University, all located in Alabama. With the exception of Lincoln, all the institutions are private schools with annual tuitions ranging from about $9,300 to over $19,000.

Vice Chancellor for Student Services Denise Noldon said the system hopes to expand the program with more colleges and universities.