Transfer takes time: 93-year-old gets ’59 degree

Olive Gardner attended Compton City College in the 1930s, Santa Barbara State College in the 1940s and what was then San Jose State College in the 1950s, determined to earn a bachelor’s degree. But San Jose State rejected some of her transfer credits. After a 53-year wait, the 93-year-old was awarded a degree in home economics, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Gardner worked on and off from the 1930s to the 1950s at three colleges to earn her degree, hoping to become a teacher, all while raising her five children and working on the family chicken ranch in Morgan Hill and behind the counter at their lawn mower repair shop on the El Camino in Santa Clara. She even packed off her five children to her mother’s house in Southern California in the summer of 1959 to spend uninterrupted time trying to finish her degree. Still, college administrators told her at the time, she was one course shy. Some of her credits didn’t transfer, they told her.

“She would always say, ‘I have 156 units and no college degree,’ ” well more than the 120 units usually required for an undergraduate degree, said her daughter, Donna Chandler, 55, who reached out to San Jose State in the spring on the eve of her mother’s 93rd birthday.

Stephen Branz, associate dean for curriculum, worked with Delia Chavez, a transfer credit adviser, and Lucy McProud, the head of the nutrition and food science, to evaluate Gardner’s transcripts. They decided Gardner had met all requirements and should have been given the degree in 1959. That’s the date on her new bachelor’s degree, which is already framed.

More states are streamlining transfers for community college students seeking bachelor’s degrees, according to an American Association of Community Colleges policy brief.

AACC’s Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future called for better articulation between community colleges and universities. “Community college transfer students often have to fight to have their credits recognized at baccalaureate institutions, and universities are often reluctant to share data about transfer students and their performance.”