By Ry Rivard

The California Community College system is launching a new HBCU Transfer program that guarantees students admission to nine HBCUs if they graduate with an associate degree. The deal allows a student with 60 community college credits to enter the historically black colleges as a junior.

The deal serves twin goals. It helps two-year students from California find a place to get a four-year degree if they want to leave the state. It also helps historically black colleges find students as some struggle with enrollment declines. Late last year, the for-profit University of Phoenix’s attempt to partner with historically black colleges prompted skepticism.

There are no HBCUs in California, and the deal may be a precedent-setting agreement between a state system and a series of public and private colleges in other states.

The California agreement builds on some existing transfer agreements between individual community colleges and nine individual HBCUs, all but one of which is private.

The deal also mirrors an internal transfer process the community college system has with the California State University System: Community college graduates who earn one of 35 different associate degrees designed to transfer are guaranteed admission into Cal State universities. Last year, about 12,000 students graduated with one of those associate transfer degrees.

“It just seems natural and the timing seemed right to say, let’s take a shot at applying that pathway to the HBCUs,” said Bob Quinn, who handles transfer policy for the community college chancellor’s office. “Because we’ve been hearing for years how well our students do after they transfer there.”

The deal limits the number of lower-division general education courses that the historically black colleges can make transferring students take after they transfer: incoming students with a California associate degree may be asked to take only nine general education units by a historically black college. The deal also creates a simple path for students who have only taken 30 credits — rather than 60 — to enter an HBCU.

Five hundred California community college students transferred to historically black colleges in 2011, the last year for which data are available, according to the system.

That number is likely to go up, said Kevin L. Williams, the vice president of enrollment management and retention at Talladega College, a historically black college in Alabama that signed an agreement with the California system.

“I think this is an excellent program because there are such a large number of students who are available” in California, Williams said.

He said the partnership will help historically black colleges expand their reach. Talladega has already worked to increase its recruitment in California. As part of the deal with the California system, the community colleges are to make information about the HBCUs available to students.

Seventeen historically black colleges already had transfer relationships with individual community colleges in California. But the systemwide deal with the nine HBCUs makes it easier for colleges to send students their way.

Constance Iloh, a research associate at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, said the state can benefit from efforts designed to increase college access, transfer and completion, especially for historically underserved groups.

“I imagine students that are more geographically flexible might be better able to take advantage of this, as students with work and family commitments might be more geographically bound,” she said in an e-mail.

Denise Noldon, the community college system’s vice chancellor for student services and special programs, said the agreements will just make it easier on students who would consider transferring to a historically black college.

“I think it just extends the options available,” she said.

The California system signed agreements with Bennett College, Dillard University, Fisk University, Lincoln University in Missouri, Philander Smith College, Stillman College, Talladega, Tuskegee University and Wiley College.