With freshman applications up but transfers down, Cal Poly Pomona faces enrollment challenge

Tom Zasadzinski, Cal Poly Pomona

Mt. San Antonio College students will participate in the March 22nd Transfer Advantage Program 2022 event hosted by nearby Cal Poly Pomona.

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona is seeing a record number of students applying for part of their fall semester Class. In fact, the campus received most of these applications throughout the CSU system with 23 campuses.

But this year, those record numbers hide a troubling trend in another group of students: FEver transfer students from the community colleges applied to Pomona University and all CSU campuses across the state.

It is a challenge Situation for officers in Pomona and other CSU locations. How can they maintain or ease registration when popular programs are overloaded, while encouraging more? Transfers for enrollment? The result is more uncertainty than usual about how many exchange students will actually appear in the fall.

Brandon Tuck, admissions director at Cal Poly Pomona, said it’s difficult to predict how the drop in transfer applications will ultimately affect fall enrollment as “the landscape is changing and becoming more competitive.” With a smaller pool of transfer applicants, more colleges recruit more, he noted.

However, he stressed that the size of the freshman class will not increase if transfer enrollments drop. “Even though we have a record number of applications, we don’t really want to increase our enrollments,” Tuck said. “We’re busy. We don’t want to expand beyond what our current enrollment already is.”

Cal Poly Pomona received 49,624 applications in its first year — a 21% increase from last year for this fall and the highest of any CSU campus. The increase is partly due to the system removing the SAT or ACT requirements for admission, Tuck said. But transfer applications were down 11% from last year, reflecting a system-wide trend that saw 13.5% fewer applications from community college students across the CSU system.

Of the 23 CSU campuses, 22 except Cal Maritime saw an increase in freshman applications, the Maritime Academy in Vallejo, and all reported decreases in transfers.

The state of San Diego, for example, saw a record-breaking number of freshman applications, with 76,928 students applying to the campus this year — a 14% increase from last year. But transfer requests fell by 9%.

Stefan Hyman, associate vice president for enrollment administration for San Diego State, attributes the decline in transfers to enrollment losses at community colleges in 2020 due to the pandemic, when many students became disenchanted with online instruction, reduced their course loads, or quit altogether.

All four-year universities rely on the community colleges to send applicants two years later,” he said. “If they go down 14% to 16%, we’re going to see a comparable drop,” he said.

Hyman said that because of San Diego State’s size, a smaller pool of transfer applicants still allows the campus to bring in a stronger and larger transfer class. This fall, the state of San Diego set a higher transfer enrollment goal, meaning the campus is accepting far more of these transfer applicants than it did last year — currently at a 35% acceptance rate versus 28% in 2021.

Whereby Pomona is not one of the seven CSU campuses that are overloaded in total, its most popular programs are. This means that the campus receives far more qualified applicants than there are places available. The campus has met or exceeded its enrollment capacity for undergraduate and transfer students in programs such as biotechnology, animal sciences, computer science, communications, accounting, and engineering from aerospace to mechanical engineering.

Cal Poly Pomona typically looks for a 50-50 split between incoming freshmen and transfer classes—about 3,100 freshmen and 3,000 transfers. But just because there are more freshmen and fewer transfers doesn’t mean the campus will open the door to even more freshmen, Tuck said.

“They are all at different points in their academic journey,” he said. “So we’re not trying to form a group with another group.”

Some CSU campuses are still accepting applications for freshmen and transfers for fall 2022.

Several factors make it difficult to predict how many transfers will be registered.

Competition for transfer students is high from other colleges, including those outside of California. Tuck said the historically black colleges and universities recognize the community college associate degree for transfer and have increased enrollment of those students.

With transfer applicants across CSU, applicants from San Diego State will also see more admissions offers from other campuses, Hyman added. That can lower the rate of those who choose to attend this university.

Mt. San Antonio College, a community college less than 2 miles from the Pomona campus, saw 1,556 of his students request the transfer to The University – about 200 fewer than last year and nearly 400 fewer than in 2020. Cal Poly Pomona officials recently visited Mt. San Antonio College to encourage admitted students to accept and sign their acceptance offers.

Audrey Yamagata-Noji, vice president of student services at Mt. San Antonio, said the drop in applications wasn’t due to “lack of interest.”

The pandemic forced some classes to go online while others were shut down entirely. So many students have not been able to complete the courses required for the transfer, she said.

Another reason for the drop in transfer numbers is the limited contact between students and advisors.

“If you can’t have immediate direct contact with your students to advise them and remind them of deadlines and application deadlines, then they just do it on their own and sometimes things diverge,” Yamagata-Noji said.

Finally, Yamagata-Noji said applications could dwindle as most universities only accept transfer students for the fall semester. When a student misses the application deadline, they sit around waiting for a year to continue their academic career, “so there’s a stopover problem along the way,” she said.

But Yamagata-Noji credits Pomona University with making changes to open the door to more transfer students.

Currently, transfer students—unlike freshmen—generally only need to meet GPA requirements for campus admission. However, if they are applying for a capacity-disrupted major, they will need to take additional or complementary courses.

Cal Poly Pomona is investigating a “multi-factor admissions model” for the 2023 admissions cycle for transfers that would mirror the model currently in use for freshmen. In addition to GPA at the community colleges, factors may include work experience, leadership roles, or special status such as the military as part of the admissions criteria.

The campus is also considering dropping the requirement that transfers take an additional course to be admitted to a capacity-affected major, except in engineering and computer science, Tuck said.

Despite the enrollment balancing act, Tuck said the university’s changes would allow transfer students to apply for an alternate major if their first choice exceeds capacity.

Tuck said the change would allow the university to retain qualified and diverse applicants instead of rejecting them because their first-choice program is full.

“That’s what’s exciting for us because we’re one of the few campuses where students can apply for an alternate major,” he said. “There’s still a chance they’ll be admitted.”

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