The Importance of Major Preparation

April
2018
Leticia Hector, San Bernardino Valley College, ASCCC Curriculum Committee
Craig Rutan, ASCCC Curriculum Committee Chair
Aimee Tran, Saddleback College, ASCCC Curriculum Committee

A primary mission of the California community colleges is to meet the needs of our transfer students.  It is our responsibility to remove barriers that may interfere with the transfer process and create a clear pathway for our students. When creating successful pathways, colleges must create courses that meet the major preparation requirements expected by transfer institutions, ensure those courses are accessible to our students, and offered in a way that will allow them to complete their program of study in a timely manner. California community colleges continue to face budget challenges which may impact the ability to offer certain courses, particularly specialized courses that typically have lower enrollments.  As a result, colleges may not offer courses that are needed for our transfer students to fulfill the requirements of their chosen major thus, hindering the ability of our students to transfer.

Due to campus impaction and increased competitiveness for transfer admissions, it is to the students’ advantage, and in many cases a requirement, that lower division major preparation is completed prior to transfer. Admission is often dependent on the completion of all lower-division general education and pre-major courses prior to transferring. California community colleges are encouraged to offer major preparation courses at least once every two years, to ensure students have the opportunity to meet impaction and competitive admission selection.  This is especially important for rare courses or courses that have sequence.

Access to major preparation courses in a timely manner is critical.  Otherwise, it can negatively impact a student by delaying transfer, causing students to seek enrollment at other colleges, accumulating unnecessary units as students remain at a California community college, and increasing time to completion.  Delaying the transfer process also increases the financial burden placed on our students.

Recently, the California Legislature has taken steps toward improving transfer pathways.  For example, there has been improved communication and collaboration between the California State Universities (CSU) and our California community colleges to develop and implement the Associate Degrees for Transfer (ADTs).  A report by The Campaign for College Opportunity, The Transfer Maze: The High Cost to Students and California, published in September 2017 (http://collegecampaign.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/CCO-2017-TransferMazeReport-27.pdf)) indicated that the development of Associate Degree for Transfers has decreased the time for students to complete a bachelor’s degree.  The report indicated that only 27% of traditional transfer students were able to complete a bachelor’s degree two years after transfer, while 48% of students who completed an Associate Degree for Transfer were able to obtain a bachelor’s degree two years after transfer.  The ADTs, with their more clearly defined major preparation requirements, have provided clearer pathways that have improved student completion and success.

Faculty need to be aware of the discipline courses UC and CSU require of our students to ensure we are offering the appropriate courses and meeting the needs of our students.  For example, in a presentation on UC Transfer Pathways and C-ID Participation at the 2016 ASCCC Curriculum Institute, Monica H. Lin and Dale Leaman stated that only 32 California community colleges had complete articulation agreements for the UC Transfer Pathway in Biology.  This finding lead to a number of questions: Were the other California community colleges aware of this?  Did they lack funding to offer such courses?  Were some of these colleges lacking support from administration to hire the appropriate faculty to teach the courses, or did they lack the budget to offer the appropriate courses?

While many faculty are already aware of the importance of major preparation courses, local curriculum committees should work with their articulation officers to educate faculty about the importance of offering major preparation courses, what the requirements are at the local UC and CSU campuses in their area, and how existing courses might be modified to better serve the needs of transfer students. The guided pathways work that many colleges have undertaken aligns well with the discussion of major preparation. As faculty identify various transfer pathways, they will want to work with their articulation officers to ensure that the courses being offered will allow their students to be prepared and competitive when applying for transfer. Additionally, as colleges change their enrollment management to accommodate the completion of identified pathways, faculty will be equipped to articulate why certain courses must be scheduled and offered, even if enrollment is limited. When Resolution 9.04: Ensuring the Availability of Major Preparation was adopted in 2012, budgets were tight and many of the essential courses to satisfy major requirements were not being scheduled due to limited resources. Colleges are still facing budget challenges, but the initial guided pathways work has created an increased focus on what students need to take to order to achieve their educational goals. 

Curriculum committees should also consider the importance of major preparation when approving new and revised courses. It is very common to discuss how a new course will meet the major requirements for students, but committees don’t always ask if revised courses still serve the needs of students. Curriculum committees should establish an expectation that faculty have consulted with their articulation officer and reviewed existing articulation agreements on ASSIST website before submitting a revised course for approval. Universities often change their expectations for transfer students and it is important that faculty ensure that courses continue to meet those expectations.

As the implementation of guided pathways continues and transfer to CSU and UC campuses becomes increasingly competitive, faculty and administration must work together to ensure that students are provided with the opportunity to enroll in courses that will satisfy the major requirements in their field of study, make them as prepared as possible before transfer, and assist them to realize their goal of transfer to a university. Through improved collaboration between faculty and administration, we can allow far more students to complete the courses they need, earn the degrees they are seeking, and move into careers or transfer to the institution of their choice. 

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