Association of Community College Trustees Leadership Congress

October 15, 2015

President Janet Napolitano gave the keynote address at the 2015 Association of Community College Trustees Leadership Congress, San Diego, Calif., October 15, 2015. Here are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

The California Model: A Partnership Between Universities and Community Colleges

Thank you, Chancellor Harris, for that wonderful introduction.

More importantly, thank you for your service as Chancellor of the California Community College System. Just a couple of days ago, we learned with some sadness that you will step down from this position in April. You have been an insightful colleague, and a trusted friend. And we applaud the tremendous work you have undertaken to improve student success for the more than 2 million Californians enrolled at our state’s community colleges.

It is my great pleasure to join in welcoming so many of you to California for the 2015 ACCT Leadership Congress. I am told that there is representation from a number of the nation’s community college districts here in San Diego.

I applaud your commitment to our community colleges. These institutions are a cornerstone of our democratic society. Your trusteeship is a profound public service to the millions of people in this country who attend them.

I’d like to spend my time with you today addressing the theme of this annual conference: “Higher Expectations: The New Community College Model.”

Specifically, I would like to address what we in California are doing, and have been doing, with regard to “higher expectations” and the higher education of the young people in this state.

The relationship among California’s three public higher education entities — the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges — is best described as a partnership. And it is a partnership with deep roots that reach back to the turn of the last century.

Today, the University of California is made up of 10 individual campuses, stretching from Davis in the north, to San Diego, here at the southern end of the state.

But at the beginning of the twentieth century, just one campus made up the University of California. It is the campus we now call UC Berkeley.

In 1907, then University of California President Benjamin Wheeler, along with faculty members at Berkeley, played a prominent role in supporting the state legislation that created our country’s first system of community colleges.

In the years that followed, UC faculty helped create the Associate of Arts degree, and designed upper and lower division curricula, so that students who attended those community colleges could later transfer to the University of California.

The relationship these faculty members built between the University of California and the state’s community colleges proved a worthy one. UC continued to grow as a public research university, guided by its mission of academic excellence.

At the same time, those rudimentary transfer pathways helped ensure the University remained accessible to many Californians. By the Great Depression, roughly 40% of the undergraduates at the University of California were transfer students.

Then came World War II…and then came the Baby Boomers.

By the late 1950s, the trajectory of California’s booming population was approaching stratospheric levels. And it became clear that California as a whole — whether that meant the state’s higher education institutions, the state government, or a combination of the two — needed to come together to figure out how to educate all these new and young Californians.  

Consider these numbers:

In the year 1960, the enrollment at California’s community colleges numbered 340,000 students.

By the year 1968, there were 665,000 students enrolled at our community colleges.

At our public state colleges, which later became the campuses of the California State University, 95,000 students were enrolled in 1960. By the year 1968, that number had reached 210,000 students.

And at the University of California in 1960, there were 50,000 students. By the year 1968, 100,000 students were enrolled at UC.

It took the University almost 100 years — from the founding of UC in 1868, until the year 1960 — to reach enrollment of 50,000 students. That figure then doubled in just 10 years.

But figuring out how to educate a booming population was not the only issue at hand.

In the late 1950s, another complication lay in the fact that these public higher education entities fell under different governing bodies, which possessed different objectives.

The community colleges were administered under the state as secondary education institutions. The State Board of Education oversaw the public state colleges. And an independent Board of Regents — whose members were appointed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature — maintained oversight of the autonomous University of California.

Finally, there was the California State Legislature itself. The Legislature also wanted to play a major part in addressing the state’s growing higher education needs. During the 1959 legislative session, for example, there were 50 bills higher education bills under consideration — including bills to create 19 new state colleges.

At the time, the President of the University of California was a man named Clark Kerr. When he became UC President in 1958, he made figuring out how to best manage and plan for the future of public higher education in California a top priority.

Kerr worked with the State Board of Education, and the University’s Board of Regents, to undertake a new and comprehensive planning study. The goals were straightforward:

First, determine how California could ensure access to higher education for the young people of the state as the population grew.

And second, avoid costly duplication across the state’s public higher education institutions.

Ultimately, and with the cooperation of the Legislature and a range of higher education stakeholders across the state, this study resulted in what is now known as the Master Plan for Higher Education in California. In the annals of the law, it became the Donahoe Higher Education Act, which Governor Pat Brown signed in 1960.

The Master Plan formalized the distinct missions of California’s three interconnected public higher education segments — the University of California; the public state colleges, now known as the California State University; and the California Community Colleges. Among other important objectives, this clear distinction between missions mitigated the costly duplication among the three segments that concerned Kerr and his counterparts.

Significantly, the Master Plan transformed California into the first state in the nation to guarantee universal access to higher education. It identified the student admissions pools for UC, the CSU, and the community colleges, and thus created a space for any Californian who wanted to pursue higher education opportunities. For the state’s community colleges — which, according to the Master Plan, would now take any California high school graduate or likewise qualified Californian — this ultimately meant the creation of 49 new community colleges.

In its own way, the Master Plan fundamentally made a point about expectations — specifically, higher expectations.

Because of the Master Plan, one could argue, it became the expectation that the young people of this state would pursue higher education.

It became the expectation that there would be a place for them at a university or community college.

And it became the expectation that those of us in higher education would do our part to ensure that those opportunities remained for California’s university and community college students going forward.

Let me tell you about what we at UC are doing now with regard to those expectations today.

UC currently enrolls more community college transfer students than any other university of its caliber.

About one third of the undergraduates who enter UC do so as transfer students. Ninety percent of them transfer from a California Community College. Once these transfer students are enrolled at UC, they excel. And they graduate at a rate that is equal to — or higher than — students who enrolled at the University as freshmen.

More than 50 percent of the community college transfer students at UC, by the way, are first-generation or low-income students.

This is in keeping with the University’s mission to enhance and expand social mobility in California. Within five years of receiving their diplomas from UC, graduates from low-income families are earning an average income that is higher than what their parents were earning at the time those students attended UC. And more than 70% of those former low-income students are working in California.

These numbers are heartening to me, and to other members of the University’s leadership. Still, I see room for the University to do more. I want to make sure UC continues to build upon the relationship it began with the California Community Colleges back in 1907.

When I arrived at UC in 2013, one of the first presidential initiatives I launched was the Community College Transfer initiative. The goal is to streamline the flow of community college students to UC campuses by improving transfer students’ awareness of UC as an attainable option; ensuring the transfer process is as clear and simple as possible; and supporting transfer students through their transition to UC.

To achieve this goal, I have met with community college leaders around the state, from Sacramento, to Merced, to Riverside. Next month, I will meet with more of them in Los Angeles.

At the same time, we at the University are working hard to accelerate and ease the transfer experience for California students. And so this past July, we launched a program called “Transfer Pathways.”

The Transfer Pathways represent a major step toward simplifying and streamlining the transfer process between UC and the community colleges. The pathways constitute a roadmap that lays out the necessary coursework for specific majors. Once students complete that coursework at their community college, they can transfer seamlessly into a specific major on a UC campus.

There are 10 majors currently established in the Transfer Pathways program. They include popular majors like biology, chemistry, and anthropology. Eleven more majors are under development by UC faculty. When all 21 pathways are established, they will represent the majors of two-thirds of the students who transfer to UC from California community colleges.

Now, I want to be clear that this program does not guarantee admissions to a UC campus. Nor is the necessary coursework any less rigorous. The expectations, in other words, remain high.

What the Pathways program does do is make the transfer process straightforward and transparent. And when transfer students arrive at UC, they are well on their way to earning their degrees, and graduating in two years.

Before I close, I want to share with you the story of just one student who transferred from a community college to the University of California.

His name is Joshua Biddle.

Joshua grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a teenager and then a young adult, Joshua struggled. He dropped out of school. Then he dropped out of another school. He spent some time at a therapeutic boarding program.

After a few years, Joshua’s great-aunt urged him to give college a chance. He decided to take her advice, and enrolled at the community college in San Francisco — City College.

At first, Joshua struggled in his coursework at City College. But then something amazing happened. In his free time, Joshua volunteered in the emergency room at San Francisco General Hospital. One day in the ER, he witnessed a surgeon cut open the chest of a woman who had been shot, take her heart in his hand, and physically pump it.

As Joshua said, and I quote, “it was the most exciting thing I had ever seen.” It was the moment Joshua realized he wanted to become a doctor.

For the next two years, Joshua took every science class at City College that he could. Then, he applied to transfer to UC Berkeley.

He was turned down.

So he applied again.

And he was turned down once more.

So he applied again.

On the third try, Joshua was accepted, and became a Cal Bear. He credits the small classes and supportive atmosphere of City College for giving him the confidence and the perseverance to keep trying.

A few years ago, at the age of 28, Joshua received his degree from UC Berkeley. On the day he walked across the stage to pick up his diploma, he became not only a Berkeley alumnus, but also the first community college transfer to receive the UC Berkeley University Medal. This award is granted to the top graduating senior at UC Berkeley. It recognizes academic achievement, distinction in public service, and the qualities of good judgment, ingenuity, and initiative.

When Joshua accepted the award, he said these words:

“I want to accept this award on behalf of the late bloomers and second-chancers.”

“I want to champion,” he said, “the non-traditional path.”

Joshua later completed medical school at UC San Francisco, and won a Fulbright fellowship to study the treatment of malaria in Kenya. Today, he is a resident physician in Internal Medicine at Stanford.

Joshua Biddle made manifest the promise of the Master Plan, and the higher expectations intrinsic to public higher education in California. His “non-traditional path” has become a traditional one in our state. Joshua is just one of many students who have taken it. And at the University of California, we are working to help other Joshua Biddles choose the best path forward, and reach their own high expectations.

Thank you for the opportunity to address you this afternoon. And thank you again for all that you do on behalf of our nation’s community colleges.