SEATTLE – Transferring from a Washington community college to a four-year university used to be a matter of numbers. Have the right grade-point average and the right piece of paper and you were in.
All that changed a year ago, when the University of Washington said it could no longer guarantee acceptance to everyone with an associate’s degree and acceptable grades. There simply wasn’t enough space for every qualified student, and the transfer waiting list was getting too long.
This spring, the university enrolled the last students on the waiting list, and now transfer students are being admitted under a new system.
Philip Ballinger, UW director of admissions, said the new admissions process puts an emphasis on preparation for entry into a specific major. Those who have earned an AA degree are still the most likely to get in, but the courses they took at community college are now part of the formula.
“If a student is floundering and then applies to the University of Washington and there’s no indication that things are coming into focus … then that student wouldn’t fare as well,” Ballinger said.
He wanted to dispel the impression, however, that it’s very difficult to get into the University of Washington as a transfer student.
“We have an agreement that at least 30 percent of our new undergraduate students each year will be community college transfers. That has never changed,” Ballinger said. For fall 2005, the university has accepted 1,250 new transfer students and between 4,850 and 4,900 new freshmen. Although fall enrollment is only 20 percent transfer students, Ballinger said the 30 percent figure is a yearlong average and more transfer students than freshmen enter during winter and spring quarters.
A decision by the 2005 Legislature to increase spending on higher education and create 7,900 new slots at state colleges and universities will help open the doors a little wider at the University of Washington and other universities, but qualified college students may still be turned away for lack of space.
The increase in higher education dollars approved in 2005 could easily disappear when the next budget is approved in 2007, said Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, chair of the House Appropriations Committee and a member of the Higher Education Committee. Money could easily be siphoned off to support elementary and secondary schools.
“As the K-12 population goes up, we’ll have to put more money into that. It’s just automatic. It’s not a decision to do it or not do it,” Sommers said.
Government studies predict a continuing need for more college enrollment slots at least through 2008, when high school graduation rates are expected to peak.
“We have made strides this year but that doesn’t mean we will keep up,” said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, a member of the Early Learning, K-12 and Higher Education Committee. She said the money allocated for higher education this year is still far behind where the state should be. “We have way too many students who are qualified than we have space for in our four-year institutions.”
Each year, hundreds of qualified would-be transfer students are not finding space at the Washington universities they want to attend, especially when their goal is the University of Washington. The state’s Office of Financial Management reports that in fall 2004, nearly 400 transfer students were denied admission by UW and didn’t go to any other Washington university. Most of these students had grade-point averages of between 2.75 and 4.0, all of whom would have been accepted and put on a waiting list under the old system.
Students with AA degrees and decent grades who try to transfer to other four-year schools are getting in most of the time, with a few rejections each year at Western Washington University.
Community college advocates were not happy when UW gave up on the old system, but they understood the problem of having a waiting list that was a year long, said Jan Yoshiwara, director of the education services division of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
“We’re suffering from our own success,” Yoshiwara said. “We’re also suffering from inadequate capacity increases that haven’t kept up with population growth.”
Yoshiwara said the new spaces provided by the 2005 Legislature will provide some relief. She expects increasing capacity at branch campuses of the four-year institutions will make the most difference for transfer students. When students are turned away at UW they are referred to branch campuses if they’re seeking majors offered at those campuses.
UW’s Ballinger said the university’s counseling department is working closely with community college counselors, instructors and students to help them improve student planning and preparation to transfer to the university.
“Preparation for a major is a real key element in this process,” he said.
More enrollment slots will need to be added two years from now to keep on track, said Debora Merle, higher education policy adviser for Gov. Christine Gregoire.
“We’ve underfunded higher education for a long time now and it’s going to take a long time to dig ourselves out,” Merle said. “There isn’t going to be any less demand in two years than there is now.”
Sommers said the answer has to be a new understanding by the citizens of Washington that they’ll need to pay more taxes to support higher education and that higher education is important to the state’s economy. In November, voters soundly rejected a proposed sales tax increase for increased spending on education.
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