There’s no way California can sustain our economy and our workforce needs without producing more college-educated workers, and specifically, increasing the number of Latinos who attain a college education. ”
Michele Siqueiros grew up in Los Angeles and was the first in her family to go to college, making her passionate about the power of college to change lives and the influence of policy making to expand or constrain opportunities for others like her. As the Executive Director for The Campaign for College Opportunity, Michele works to expand access and success in college for California students. With her leadership in 2010, The Campaign led the effort for historic transfer reform that will make it easier for students to transfer from any California Community College to the California State University system. For three years, Michele has been ardently following the implementation of transfer and in response to lagging progress, was instrumental in supporting follow up legislation signed in 2013 by Governor Jerry Brown to set clear goals for implementing transfer reform and providing transfer students with the same degree pathways as first-time freshman at universities.
A 1995 graduate of Pitzer College in Los Angeles, Michele and her work with The Campaign for College Opportunity was featured as a part of the college’s Profiles of Change. Watch the video here.
What are your views on the importance of increased college attainment for California’s economy and the quality of life for its citizens?
Quite simply, the economic future of our state will depend on whether we accept a younger generation that is less educated—and all the societal implications that come with it—or actually get aggressive about ensuring that students not only have access to a college education, but complete once they get there. In our recent study, California’s Economic Payoff, we found that the return on investment for public dollars spent on higher education is significant. For every $1 spent, there’s a $4.50 return through higher tax collections and significant savings in social service expenditures and incarceration. In 2011, the total tax revenue generated by UC and CSU college grads alone was $12 billion. There’s no way California can sustain our economy and our workforce needs without producing more college-educated workers, and specifically, increasing the number of Latinos who attain a college education.
What does transfer pathway reform look like in California, and why is it so critical to increasing degree attainment?
Transfer in California is a maze of articulation agreements between community colleges and universities. They vary depending on what community college you are at, and which one you are going to. This undoubtedly contributes to our very low transfer rate of 25 percent. We have the largest community college system in the nation, serving over two million students each year in every community across California. Most of those students enroll with the intention of transferring to a four year university, and too few ever do. In a study we commissioned in 2010 by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy (IHELP) researchers tracked over a quarter million degree seeking community college students over six years and found that only three in 10 ever completed a certificate or degree or became transfer eligible. The rates were even lower for African American and Latino students. These low completion and transfer rates are simply unacceptable and without major improvements, we will never reach much higher educational attainment goals for our citizens.
How does The Campaign for College opportunity mobilize California constituents and make transfer reform a top priority in the state legislature?
The data was very clear that improving transfer from community colleges to our four year universities (especially to the CSU, where most students attend) was crucial to improving educational attainment in California. We set out to press for policy and college reforms that would make transfer more simple for students – providing a clear pathway to students who could earn an Associate Degree and be guaranteed admission to the CSU with junior status. It wasn’t very hard to mobilize California leaders and students across the state to support our policy efforts.
Quite frankly, once people know how low our transfer rates are, and that we don’t have a seamless transfer path for students, they are as outraged as we are. We used data to raise awareness, we leveraged as many opportunities to meet with the press and editorial boards on the issue, and we engaged business, civil rights, and student leaders in support of the reforms. We were fortunate to work with a strong leader in the California Senate, who has been committed to transfer reform, Alex Padilla, and together we were able to marshal strong bipartisan support for passage of these reforms. It’s also important to note that the leadership of both the Community College Chancellor’s Office and the Cal State system were strong champions for moving this forward. Internal leadership is necessary for successful implementation of any reform, so ensuring a good level of buy-in has been critical to moving the work forward.
Looking back on the policy changes that you’ve led for transfer reform, what advice would you share with others who are interested in pursuing similar objectives?
My advice is that you have to establish the right environment for your proposed solution. In this case, we used data and media to build a strong public campaign around a major problem. We had a strong leader and champion in the legislature that was really a good ally with us when others tried to undermine our efforts, and we mobilized key leaders across the board and engaged students to voice their experiences. We never took it for granted that the legislation would be passed. You have to dedicate staff time and energy to this work.
But perhaps my biggest piece of advice would be that you have to monitor implementation. We were very clear that our goal of strengthening transfer and creating a clear pathway for 80-90% of transfer students in California would be the measure of success. For the past three years we have intently monitored implementation, attending countless meetings and in November 2012 releasing a new report on how far we had come, but how far there was to go, Meeting Compliance but Missing the Mark. The report stimulated more conversations, created pressure locally for many colleges and universities that were not doing so well on implementation, and became the outline for follow up legislation that set clear benchmarks and deadlines for much stronger implementation of our historic 2010 law. SB 440 was signed and passed in early October, and we will continue to ensure that the promise of a strong pathway to increase transfer in California – becomes a reality.