OPINION: Colleges must accept more transfer students to boost diversity


Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

Last Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 19, a bill promising all first-time community college students free tuition for their first year. Although the assembly bill most directly affects prospective community college attendees, USC expects an increase in transfer applicants, and will in turn be impacted. For years, USC has consistently accepted greater numbers of transfer students than any other private institution. In Fall 2017, USC enrolled 1,300 transfer students, with 50 percent of those students coming from California community colleges.

In contrast, other private elite institutions like Princeton University have admitted zero transfer students in over 20 years. In 2015, Yale and Stanford University enrolled 24 and 15 transfer students, respectively. USC has become an anomaly in transfer admissions in comparison with other private institutions, who are wary of transfer students and more motivated to maintain rankings, high graduation rates and selective admissions. Yet, with the prospect of even more community college transfer students in the next few years given increased access via AB 19, more private institutions, especially in California, must be ready to admit and enroll larger numbers, and subsequently open up their campuses to more diverse student bodies.

While popularly imagined as under-achievers, the average USC transfer student’s college GPA of 3.7 is nearly equal to that of the freshman admit’s (3.73). Top public universities, who also accept a large number of transfer students, see minimal differences between freshman and transfer admits’ academic standing: UCLA and UC Berkeley both report less than a 0.10 difference in GPA between freshmen and transfer admits.

In addition, many transfer students, especially from community colleges, achieve their goal of attending a four-year university by overcoming economic or academic adversity that freshmen admits coming straight from high school may not have faced. Others join four-year colleges after testing the waters of the modern workforce immediately after high school, and bring more diverse experiences with them.

Yet, as many private colleges neglect to “cash in” on the diversity of transfers, the absence of community college transfer students attending private institutions perpetuates the notion that private universities are reserved for more economically privileged students. This notion arguably dates back to the desegregation of U.S. public schools in the 1950s, when private education dramatically grew as a response to prevent integration. Since then, the stand-alone cost of a private education has preserved this impression, implicitly discouraging low-income students of color from diverse backgrounds from even attempting to enroll in private universities.

Nonetheless, a study by the Council of Independent Colleges concluded that low-income and first-generation community college transfers found more success at private universities, graduating in four years at higher rates than at public universities, despite the majority of transfer students transfer into public colleges. According to US News and World Report, the top 100 colleges accepting the most transfer students are public state schools.  

Many colleges tout their commitment to maintaining opportunities for undocumented students but continue to deny access to uphold atmospheres of non-inclusivity for transfer community college students, of whom a plurality are undocumented. According to the Los Angeles Times, approximately 61,000 community college students are beneficiaries of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. At Pomona College, for example, only 3 percent of its admits were transfer students. And Stanford, another elite private California institution ranked fourth in ethnic diversity by U.S. News, accepted only 15 transfer students in 2015, and did not disclose how many are from community colleges.

USC has observed success on the rankings ladder while simultaneously accepting increasing numbers of transfer students. The University currently ranks as the fourth most economically diverse and 21st best university in the nation. These statistics should naturally allay other private colleges’ fear of a depreciated rank due to accepting more transfer students, and encourage them to follow suit. If private universities do not begin to admit and enroll more transfer students, then they are failing to promote and broaden their ubiquitous social mission to educate all students regardless of racial or economic background.

  • b juardo

    Trying to win over everyone isn’t wise. That’s a me-too, bandwagon mentality. Sadly, SC is trying to be everything to everyone. Just look at all the articles here on the DT, and the tone is SJW. It wasn’t that way when I went here 10 years ago; it was apolitical and neutral. If SC continues this course, it will worsen. There won’t be a USC 20 years from now.

  • BostonTW

    USC admits way too many transfer students, a practice that: a) is unfair to the freshmen who worked their tails off to matriculate right after high school, b) dilutes the value of a USC degree, c) undermines the four year collegiate experience, and d) stands in the way of transforming USC into an elite private school.

    USC should admit no more than 250 transfers per year, and most should transfer from other four-year schools. Not every community college student has a right to attend USC.

  • david

    Obviously, and ironically, the D.T. does not want a diversity of opinion, as is evidenced by them deleting my post.
    Hypocrites of the highest order and down right ignorant. You do a disservice to everyone.

  • david

    To be very clear, the reason the super elite universities do not accept more transfers is simply because they cannot find more students that qualify to meet their standards. They are not willing to have two different academic levels of students. If these transfer students could get into Harvard, Yale, etc, they would be there because these schools offer much better financial aid packages than does USC. So finances are not the reason. Academics are the reason. At super elite schools, all students are super elite. Not so much at USC.

    USC has established, in stone, that we are willing to take a much broader range of academically qualified people. This is evident in the recent establishment of the McCarthy Honors College for the really bright new students: the ones who could possibly be accepted into a Harvard, Yale, etc.. Yes, you can eat there but you cannot share in the “Special Experiences” of the elite students at USC. It is reserved for them exclusively.
    33% of all new USC students are now coming from Community Colleges. I’ve got news for you, these students are, by and large, academically inferior to the overall Freshman class. Of course their GPAs nearly mirror our regular Freshman class, they are in Community College–not the fiercest of atmospheres. Their test scores are, by and large, particularly low. Too low for a super elite school.

    To add to this idea, California Community Colleges recently removed the requirement that a student has to be able to pass Calculus 101 in order to graduate. The reason this happened is because too few students could in fact pass the math. USCs response to this is to accept more Community College students.
    Is it really diversity we are after or is it money. Since none of these students qualify for merit scholarships, they are barrowing heavily to attend USC. Just as do international students, where the student population has skyrocketed, all pay full-bore tuition.

    During Max Nikias’ tenure as President, USC has increased the size of its student population by 33%. This is unheard of in higher education. Even with the University Village, we only have 9,000 beds for an undergraduate population of 19,000. Only 10,000 beds short. In order to finance Nikias’ super ambitious vision for USC, he is raising money any way he can and stuffing as many students into the school as possible is an important method. We are now as large as UCLA and Berkeley, some of the biggest public universities in the nation. We are ranked right along side them academically. We cost about 4 x times what they cost. Where is the value Mr. Nikias. You do not have to increase the size of the university by 12,000 students, which he has done, in order to achieve diversity. You do have to do it to pay the bills of your high dreams. I wonder if our diplomas are greatly devalued by the number of graduates coming out of USC. It looks more like a diploma mill than a Private elite university.

  • Bruce Poch

    While I commend the discussion, criticizing Princeton, Pomona and Stanford for their small or non-existent transfer numbers bears closer scrutiny. The retention rates at those institutions are remarkably high and they are geared for a four-year experience for their students. With little attrition, there is little opportunity to bring in transfer students, whether from community colleges or other 4 year institutions. USC has planned differently to include large numbers of transfer students. Kudos to USC, but hardly a fair point to question few spaces at the institutions which have such extraordinarily high retention rates.

  • Prisoner of Azkaban

    So here’s a question for you. Every affirmative action admission means that some white or Asian high school senior who may have dreamed for years of going to USC ends up instead going to a 2nd rate school. The whole life they could have had as a Trojan alumni, the Trojan family network, the advantages they’d get from having USC on the resume, all taken away. What would you say to that white or Asian whose spot goes to the affirmative action admit?

  • CathodeGlow

    The United States put a man on the moon in 1969. What role did “diversity” play in that achievement?

  • Lance

    Not only transfer students, but USC leads the nation in accepting international students who also contribute to the school’s diversity. However, sadly, Trump’s contentious issue is yet one more thing that makes being an international student away from home difficult, compounded by our complex culture and language. Welcoming and assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation.
    Something that might help anyone coming to the US is the award-winning worldwide book/ebook “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies how “foreigners” have become successful in the US, including students.
    A chapter on education explains how to cope with a confusing new culture and friendship process, and daunting classroom differences. It explains how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also identifies the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all at USC or wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of our universities and the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who shout the loudest and strive to stifle diversity!

  • Elizabeth

    Isn’t it interesting… Big universities pride themselves as institutions of ‘diversity’. However, ‘diversity’ in this case means everyone looking different but thinking the same. It is getting really old.