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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation at California State University, Northridge.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation at California State University, Northridge. - Credit: Office of the Governor

The $47.1 billion higher education package is highest level of state funding in history.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several bills Wednesday that would improve college affordability and make it easier for community college students to transfer to the state’s public university systems.

“We’re turning commitments into reality by ensuring that our students have more access to high-quality educational opportunities, creating a change of course for generations to come and bolstering California’s innovation economy,” Newsom said, in a news release. “Californians have thrived at our world-class universities for decades, but not everyone has had similar access — today that’s changing. Everyone deserves a shot at the ‘California Dream’ — we’re eliminating equity gaps and increasing opportunities at our universities to make those dreams a reality for more California students.”

The latest bills are part of the state’s $47.1 billion investment in the state’s higher education system including ongoing base funding to the University of California, California State University and the California Community Colleges, expansion of the state’s Cal Grant program to additional community college students and many other programs to make college more affordable.  An additional $1.9 billion has also been signed by Newsom to create college savings accounts.

Included in the investment package is Assembly Bill 928 authored by Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park. That bill requires the 23-campus California State University and nine undergraduate campuses of the University of California system to establish a joint singular lower-division general education pathway for transfer. It also requires the California Community Colleges to place students who declare a transfer goal on an associate degree for transfer pathway for their intended major. The bill gives the systems until May 31, 2023, to create a joint singular lower-division general education pathway. An extension until Dec. 31, 2023, is allowed if an agreement can’t be reached by the earlier time.

The associate degree for transfer — known as ADT — was created to streamline the process and guarantee admission into the UC and CSU systems for those who complete the pathway. It also enables students to transfer to many private universities. But problems remain. A report from the Campaign for College Opportunity, a California-based nonprofit, found that while students only need 60 credits to transfer, even with the ADT they earned on average 86 credits. Without the transfer degree, many took many more credits, as many as 90.

AB 928 also creates a committee with representatives from the universities and community colleges to oversee the ADT.

“For the millions of community college students in California who dream of attending a university, today’s action ensures that dreams can become a reality,” said Michele Siqueiros, president of the college opportunity campaign. “Fixing transfer is one of the most significant ways to improve student success, close racial equity gaps in higher education and ensure our state can meet future workforce needs.”

Newsom also signed AB 1111 which requires the 116 community colleges to adopt a common course-numbering system that ensures that similar courses at any California community college are aligned so they fulfill the same transfer requirements for CSU and UC systems.  

“When students discussed their experience with the transfer process from community college to four-year university, their message was loud and clear: Transfer is too complex, confusing and difficult to navigate,” Berman said. “Together AB 928 and 1111 will make it easier for students to achieve their educational goals.”

Newsom also signed bills that would make financial aid more accessible to students, including AB 469 sponsored by Assembly member Eloise Gomez Reyes, D-San Bernardino, to require all students by September 2022 to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or California Dream Act application.

The higher education investment also includes $2 billion to improve student housing and make it more affordable.

“From historic investments in financial aid and student housing that will benefit students to a radical revamping of transfer, 2021 is a landmark year for public higher education in California,” CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said. “We appreciate the bold vision demonstrated by Gov. Newsom and his commitment to further improving education access and outcomes throughout the Golden State.”

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