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CSUSM to Lead Grant to Smooth Transfer Pathways for Students

Cal State San Marcos has received a grant of $350,000 to provide support for seven California State University campuses that will collaborate to develop a plan to remove barriers to the success of transfer students.

The grant is being funded by College Futures Foundation in partnership with the James Irvine Foundation. It starts on Jan. 1, 2023 and runs through June 30, 2024.

The director of the grant project from CSUSM is Dawn M. Formo, dean of the Office of Undergraduate Studies. Formo will lead a working group composed of representatives from six other CSU campuses and seven community colleges to reduce barriers to transfer for the highest risk populations.

Besides CSUSM, the other CSU schools involved in the initiative are Bakersfield, Dominguez Hills, East Bay, Los Angeles, Northridge and Pomona. The CSU campuses are identifying community college partners now. 

The program will focus specifically on students who are underrepresented minorities, first-generation and eligible for Pell grants – the populations at the highest risk of not transferring and completing their four-year degrees. According to 2020 data from the Public Policy Institute of California, only 19% of California community college students who intend to transfer reach that goal within four years, and 28% do so within six years.

CSUSM’s Office of Undergraduate Studies, led by Formo, is guiding the university’s efforts related to Graduation Initiative 2025, a CSU-wide push to promote student learning, reduce time to graduation and increase graduation rates.

Two years ago, Formo asked the Chancellor’s Office if she could convene a group of deans from across the system to identify campus challenges facing students. Working with Elizabeth Adams, then an associate vice president at Cal State Northridge, Formo brought together the cohort of seven campuses with a similar focus on student success and social mobility. Together they brainstormed the greatest barriers to realizing the goals of Graduation Initiative 2025 on their respective campuses.

“The result of that targeted discussion was that we all saw a critical need to provide transfer students with a clear pathway, resources and mentorship early on when they first enter community college and continue into the CSU,” Formo said. “We determined that our campuses would be more intentional and strategic by working together rather than individually to better support first-generation, low-income and underserved students. The pathway that will result from this collaboration has the potential to become a systemwide, if not national model.”

The project will aim to strengthen the communication between the CSU and California community colleges to develop a seamless, inclusive and equitable transfer student pathway, with the goal of scaling it throughout the California higher education public system. If successful, the collaboration will craft a road map for the seven CSU campuses and their partnering community colleges that collectively addresses the most significant barriers that impede the smooth transfer of underserved students to their choice CSUs.