In 2019, landmark legislation (Assembly Bill or AB 705) transformed the community college landscape in California, dramatically increasing direct access to introductory transfer-level courses in English and math. Three years later, however, it has become clear that this was only the first step in truly overhauling the transfer pathway.

This report from the Public Policy Institute of California examines student outcomes through the fall 2022 term, shedding light on both the immense progress made and necessary areas of future reform.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Outcomes among first-time English students have remained stable after substantial initial growth in both access and course completion. Overall, from fall 2018 to fall 2022, the share of first-time English students starting directly in college composition increased from 68 percent to 99 percent, and the share of first-time English students successfully completing the course in one term rose from 47 percent to 59 percent. Much of this progress occurred in fall 2019, the first term of systemwide implementation of AB 705.
  • Outcomes among first-time math students improved in fall 2022 after stalling in the two years prior. From fall 2018 to fall 2022, direct access to transfer-level math increased from 40 percent to 96 percent, while one-term course completion rose from 24 percent to 51 percent. Gains were largest in fall 2019 and in fall 2022.
  • As colleges approach universal access to transfer-level courses, their focus must shift to proactively utilizing other strategies to produce strong and equitable completion rates. About four in 10 first-time English students and half of first-time math students do not pass the transfer-level course in one term. Equity gaps in completion remain almost as high as they were in 2019: in transfer-level math, the white-Black gap in one-term course completion is 22 percentage points and the white-Latino gap is 17 points. Expanded access has been driving progress thus far, but moving forward, other strategies—both inside and outside the classroom—will be necessary.
  • Some colleges have increased completion rates and reduced equity gaps. Institutional engagement and collaboration, including a systemwide growth mindset, effective student supports and resources, and a commitment to data-driven decision-making, are key to student success, according to our interviews. Targeted initiatives, such as those aimed to support Black students, can also be effective when they are designed to address specific student needs.