News & Commentary, Publications & Research

Improving the Pathway to the BA: An Examination of the Associate Degree for Transfer (2020)

California Community Colleges (CCCs) provide a critical entry point to higher education for millions of students across the state—many intending to go on to earn four-year degrees through a transfer to California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC). This is especially true for low-income and first-generation students and students of color. But many never transfer, and some do so at great costs, repeating courses for credits that do not articulate. Nearly a decade ago, a statewide framework called the Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) was established to provide a more seamless pathway between CCCs and the CSU 

We are pleased to present findings from a new study commissioned by College Futures Foundation and conducted by UC Davis Wheelhouse: The Center for Community College Leadership and Research. The report, Improving the Pathway to the BA: An Examination of the Associate Degree for Transfer, shows that the ADT is generally working as designed—with some very promising results—and describes an important opportunity to improve equitable access to the benefits of this program. 

 Key takeaways include: 

  •  Associate Degrees for Transfer have expanded significantly. Over the period of study, campus ADT offerings grew from an average of one in 2011 to 20 by 2018; ADT majors grew from nine to more than 40 over a similar period. The number of ADTs earned rose from 800 to 60,000 across all student subgroupsLatinx students in particular were much more likely than peers in other ethnic groups to transfer with this credential. 
  • Students are earning bachelor’s degrees more efficiently. Within three years of transfer to CSU, ADT earners achieve a BA/BS at a higher rate than other transfer students, and they do so in fewer semesters on average. 
  • Inconsistent access to the program limits the equity of this opportunity. Access to the ADT remains uneven by field of study and campus. Thireport shows that, while Latinx students are accessing this program in large numbers, community colleges with large Black and Asian populations tend to offer fewer ADTs than other campuses. 
  • This reform can improve through strategic growth and promotion of student awareness. Recommendations include building student awareness of the benefits of this program, growing the number of subject offerings, expanding the ADT into the UC and private four-year institutions, and establishing an integrated data structure to increase understanding of student transfer pathways.  

 We are encouraged by these results. The UC Davis Wheelhouse study affirms that, with coordination and intentionality, California’s postsecondary institutions can help more students chart a purposeful, efficient path toward a four-year degree. The ADT is an important option for attainment among students less likely to enter four-year institutions directly, thereby advancing educational opportunity and equity across our state. To do this more fully, the ADT option itself must be provided more equitably. We urge educational equity champions, leaders, and decision-makers to consider the recommendations in this report. 

Download Improving the Pathway to the BA

Download a summary infographic ADTs at Year 10