Why is it so hard for students to leave Pierce College?
At a recent meeting of the Pierce Academic Senate, President Robert Garber said that roughly 70 percent of those students who enter Pierce with intentions of transferring to a four-year university are unable to realize that goal.
With more than 18,000 students attending this semester, nearly 13,000 of them will be unable to fulfill even the basic prerequisites to transfer.
So why can’t Pierce, with more resources than most community colleges, and certainly more than most schools in the L.A. Community College District (LACCD), ease the difficulties that its students have in realizing their goals?
The truth is that many students just get stuck.
With no specific direction, students often just keep taking classes, not really progressing towards a degree or transfer options.
With no emphasis during the registration process to figure out a plan for graduation, and no mandatory meeting with a counselor at any point in a Pierce education, most students are simply unaware of the necessary classes to turn that abstract goal of transfer into a concrete reality.
Few students know what they can earn associate degrees in, and even fewer ever take the steps to earn one.
In fact, an editor of this paper (and we’re not telling which one…) didn’t know that an A.A. in journalism is offered at Pierce until last week.
And we’re among the well-informed students.
So what are the options?
Students with the goal of continuing their education can receive an associate degree in a number of majors, which, along with their requirements and departmental contact information, can be found in the Pierce College General Catalogue (available in the bookstore for $2.50.)
This is not to be confused with the schedule of classes, which are mailed to all returning students each semester.
Students who have no desire to earn an A.A. and just want to transfer are encouraged to complete the IGETC, a list of standard requirements accepted by more than 20 universities as completion of all lower-division units. With agreements made between Pierce and the respective universities, this path prevents students from being forced to complete any lower-division requirements after transfer.
Granted, many students attend a community college because of financial burdens, before attempting to transfer. Unfortunately, this is the same reason that many never leave. A lot of students do not realize that the same financial aid available at Pierce is also available at the higher institutions.
Since Pierce has placed such an emphasis on the ability of its students to transfer, maybe its time that our numbers reflected that promise.
Many of the same universities that we as students aspire to require students to meet with a counselor before their initial registration.
While we readily acknowledge that Pierce does not have the resources to do that , it is not built into the culture of the college that meeting with a counselor is something that can help students prepare for transfer. Proportionally, few students make this a priority.
The counseling office has taken initiative to coordinate more transfer workshops and job exploration days of late, so let’s keep it up.
Additionally, we must advertise and promote these events if we want them to be effective on a large scale.
The office has also hired more staff recently, so let’s utilize this additional manpower to increase the counseling involvement.
While several of them have begun to visit classrooms to inform students of the available resources, this should be used more effectively at the beginning of a Pierce education.
Bottom line, the college must do something to increase the number of students continuing on to a successful four-year university.
With a requirement change effective in Fall 2009, now is the time to make these changes.
Let’s take advantage of the resources that are available.
Meet with a counselor, meet with financial aid and, if you have declared a major, meet with faculty from your department to help you decide what classes are needed before graduation.
The college itself must also work at making those resources known.
The only thing that students are required to do upon entrance is an online orientation that most students just click through without looking.
If we want to continue to increase enrollment, we must come up with a better, in-person orientation program that includes counseling and emphasis on the resources that the college has to offer.
Use it to encourage students to come to Pierce and give them tools to attain their goals.