Hewlett Foundation Lends Support for Mission to Strengthen Transfer Connection

MERCED, CA— For Fall 2005, UC Merced had set the goal of enrolling 300 transfer students. The official third-week census, however, revealed the campus had fallen short of that objective with just 132 transfer students registered for the opening semester.

While disappointing, this statistic is not surprising when put in the context of a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California stating that only 5.3 percent of fulltime sophomores at the state's community colleges transfer to continue their education at a University of California campus. Among Central Valley community college students, that number drops to 2.9 percent.

Recently awarded a two-year, $200,000 grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Professor Jeff Yoshimi is helping take the campus to the next level in its ongoing mission to develop connections with regional community colleges and strengthen the transfer pipeline.

The award reflects the Hewlett Foundation's longstanding commitment to support initiatives addressing important social and environmental issues, including improving the quality of education and access to educational opportunities.

"I transferred from Pasadena City College to UC Berkeley and my parents met at Los Angeles City College, so transfer is meaningful to me based on my personal background. I believe in it," Yoshimi said, explaining his own dedication to the transfer cause. "I love California - all of it - and knew I wanted to do something to specifically serve this region. This focus on community college transfer is how I've chosen to allocate my service time and energy."

In his proposal, "Creating a Community College Culture at UC Merced," Yoshimi has laid out a multifaceted strategy to bolster campus efforts to recruit, retain and graduate a larger number of transfer students. His plan for action builds on the relationships he has nurtured and incorporates the information he has gathered ever since joining the founding faculty in 2004.

He has employed Merced College students to work on his own research projects, established links with community college faculty members who share his scholarly interests, and co-written - with Merced College faculty member Lee Anne Hobbs - a report about UC Merced's first transfer students using insight gleaned from focus groups and surveys examining Merced College students and UC Merced transfer students. On campus, Yoshimi has started a listserv for transfer students to discuss issues of concern.

With the Hewlett-funded project, Yoshimi identifies his primary goals as increasing awareness of the transfer option for Central Valley students, encouraging transfer student success via a variety of resources and promoting UC Merced as a transfer destination. His hope is to create a model program characterized by a network of conduits from California community colleges - particularly local, historically underserved colleges - to a university that actively supports transfer students and has transfer graduation rates equal to other UC campuses.

"The overarching problem is the Central Valley's relative lack of a college-going culture," he said, citing a lack of guidance, inconsistent information, minimal knowledge about resources such as transfer guarantee programs and poor articulation standards as complaints voiced by students surveyed.

Funding from the Hewlett grant will allow Yoshimi to offer part-time employment to at least 10 of UC Merced's inaugural transfer students so they can help develop transfer student services and improve future transfer rates to the campus as they gain valuable leadership skills.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost David B. Ashley intends to create a campus-wide transfer committee that would work in close collaboration with the students, who also will partner with the admissions and student outreach staff, UC Merced's Student Transfer Outreach and Mentor Program and student liaisons to be appointed at four community colleges. A half-time research assistant will help Yoshimi coordinate the project as well.

These students will help achieve deliverables including the founding of a transfer student association, development of a student ambassador program to support community college outreach, creation of a UC Merced transfer Web site, and publication of a research article detailing best practices at community colleges and suggestions to improve UC Merced's transfer programs.

Built into his proposal are standards by which Yoshimi will evaluate the initial success of these activities. The target for student ambassadors, as one example, is a 10 percent increase in transfers from the community colleges they serve. In the longer term, he hopes this project will result in a 10 percent increase in the overall number of transfer applicants from Central California community colleges and a 10 percent increase in applications from Hispanic, African-American, Southeast Asian and Native American students.

Since 1966, the Hewlett Foundation has been making grants to address the most serious problems facing society, supporting activities in education, the environment, global development, the performing arts and population. The foundation places a high value on sustaining and improving institutions that make positive contributions to society. In 2001, UC Merced was the beneficiary of a $2 million Hewlett Foundation grant, which allowed the university to acquire and preserve 5,750 acres of vernal pool habitat on and adjacent to the campus.

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