Monterey Bay College Pathways Partnership

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and the Bright Futures Education Partnership are undertaking an unprecedented effort to align all of CSUMB’s Bachelor’s Degree programs with Associate’s Degree programs at all California Community Colleges in the Monterey Bay Region.

The Monterey Bay College Pathways Partnership (MBCPP) was established by CSUMB, Cabrillo College, Gavilan College, Hartnell College, and Monterey Peninsula College with the goals of improving student success, increasing the number of local students transferring to CSUMB, and reducing the time and cost for students to complete a bachelor’s degree. In support of these goals, the colleges agreed to work toward better-aligned curriculum, financial aid support, and academic advising. This is an important strategic initiative for CSUMB: in the 2020-21 academic year, 60% of upper-division transfer students came from the Tri-County area.

A key strategy identified in the MBCPP is the creation of 2+2 Degree Pathways. As the name implies, students complete a 2-year associate’s degree at a community college and then transfer to CSUMB to complete a bachelor’s degree in an additional 2 years. In this way, students benefit from the lower cost of completing general education requirements at a community college, earn an associate’s degree, and are able to transfer to CSUMB and complete a bachelor’s degree in only four years.

This type of transfer pathway is essentially laid out by the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education, but has never been fully implemented in the succeeding sixty years. Under the Master Plan, the California Community College (CCC) system provides access to academic and workforce education to all Californians across 116 campuses. The California State University (CSU) System provides comprehensive undergraduate and master’s level education across 23 campuses. The University of California (UC) System is the state’s primary academic research institution and provides undergraduate, master’s, and professional degrees across 10 campuses. Students can either begin a bachelor’s degree at a UC or CSU campus or complete an associate’s degree at a CCC before transferring to a UC or CSU to complete a bachelor’s degree.

However, the system often fails to work as intended. Students who enter a CCC with the goal of transferring to a CSU often face a series of challenging obstacles:

  • General education requirements can be confusing, duplicative, and often do not transfer to a particular CSU or UC campus.
  • Even if students complete the correct coursework, the content covered and the classes taken do not always align well with the CSU program’s curriculum, leaving students in need of additional coursework before progressing through upper-division courses.
  • Because of shortfalls in academic advising resources and staffing, students are often left to their own devices to lay out an academic plan, requiring them to navigate issues with prerequisites, scheduling, class availability, and course transferability, any of which can set a student back by a semester or more.

While many CCC campuses (including our local campuses) have made tremendous progress in supporting students through these challenges with initiatives like Guided Pathways and the Associate’s Degree for Transfer, many students still fall behind.

In the 2019-20 school year, nearly 500,000 students entered a CCC with the goal of earning an associate’s degree and/or transferring to a university. According to the Campaign for College Opportunity, a very small percentage of students entering California’s community colleges will transfer after two years, and only 23% transfer in four years. There are disparities along race/ethnicity lines as well. First, the CCC system is the entryway to higher education for 66% of Latinx college-going students in California (compared to 44% of Asian students and 54% of White students). While students of all races/ethnicities at CCCs declare their intention to earn a degree or transfer at about the same rate (75-80%), Black and Latinx students are only about ⅓ as likely (9% and 10%, respectively) to transfer within 4 years as Asian American students (27%). 70% of Black and Latinx students entering the CCC system say they want to earn a degree or transfer but don’t reach their goal within four years, in part because of the many obstacles to timely completion and transfer. There is a clear need to improve the system. 

MBCPP addresses these issues by connecting faculty and advisors to identify issues that students commonly face and to create a simple, clear pathway for regional CCC students to follow, ensuring that they are able to transfer to CSUMB and have the opportunity to complete a Bachelor’s degree in two years. For every major at CSUMB, MBCPP will create a 2-year pathway at a community college that includes core courses for the degree and an efficient set of general education courses to complete. Courses in the pathway are guaranteed to transfer, and faculty at both institutions have committed to work together to make sure that students are well-prepared to enter CSUMB with junior standing, ready to take on challenging upper-division coursework.

Students who complete the pathway at one of the partner community colleges with a sufficient grade point average (GPA) will also be guaranteed admission to CSUMB and the major that aligns with the 2+2 Degree Pathway they have chosen. Students then are able to complete the 2-year pathway at CSUMB, earning both an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in 4 years. This will allow students entering our local CCCs to see a reliable and straightforward path to earning a degree at CSUMB. The earlier that students set the goal of completing a four-year degree and entering a pathway, the higher their likelihood of success.

CSUMB is making progress on this work across multiple fronts. As of November 2021, work has begun between CSUMB and Monterey Peninsula College, Cabrillo College, and Hartnell College. Working groups have formed, connecting leadership, faculty, and advisors to work on these pathways. At Monterey Peninsula College, 13 pathways are either completed or in progress. Likewise, at Cabrillo College there are 16 pathways that are either completed or in progress. And while work has only just recently begun with Hartnell College, three pathways have already been completed. The goal is to complete this work by the end of the 2021-22 academic year so that students entering community college in Fall 2022 have access to a wide array of options for reaching their academic goals here in the Monterey Bay.

Building clear, reliable 2+2 Degree Pathways between CSUMB and Cabrillo, Hartnell, Gavilan, and Monterey Peninsula Colleges will build on the existing strength of CSUMB’s transfer students. The Graduation Initiative 2025 is a systemwide, 10-year push to improve persistence and graduation rates for first-time freshman and upper-division transfer students while eliminating racial and socioeconomic disparities in outcomes. CSUMB has already exceeded its goals of a 46% 2-year transfer graduation rate (59.5% in 2021) and an 80% 4-year transfer graduation rate (80.2% in 2021). The Monterey Bay College Pathways Partnership will ensure that even more students are able to earn an associate’s degree at a local community college, transfer to CSUMB, and complete a bachelor’s degree in four years.

The end result? More students earning high-quality postsecondary credentials in less time and at a lower cost, enabling more young people to enter the workforce prepared for the rewarding, living-wage careers that are the great promise of higher education.