Academic News

A Message on the Pathways Initiative from the Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost

January 11, 2012 | Featured

Early last month, the CUNY Pathways Task Force submitted its recommendations to Chancellor Goldstein regarding the 30-credit Common Core structure, part of an overall 42-credit General Education framework that was called for by the Board of Trustees resolution of June 27, 2011. On December 12, the Chancellor announced that he had accepted the Task Force’s recommendations. (Online: http://bit.ly/sNVOlW.)

These historic events compel reflection on the factors that produced them. According to New York State Education Law, CUNY is one university. But the curricula of CUNY’s colleges have not been well aligned. Colleges have accepted transfer credits inconsistently. In some cases, students who transferred within CUNY with an AA or AS degree received credit for the exact same course that a student who was one course short of an AA or AS did not. Moreover, colleges differed in the number of credits they required for general education and in the ways in which credits were allotted across disciplinary areas.

All of these differences have posed obstacles for CUNY students, especially for our many transfer students, and most CUNY senior college graduates are transfer students. These obstacles have complicated students’ efforts to graduate within the number of credits specified for their degrees, sometimes with dire financial aid implications. As an integrated University, CUNY should allow students to move freely within the system according to their needs and interests, although subject to each college’s admissions standards.

Available in full online (http://bit.ly/vO1SWM), the Common Core framework recommended by the task force and accepted by the Chancellor reflects months of research, analysis, and intense discussion. As the Chancellor has noted, the structure is remarkable for its academic rigor and integrity, clarity of organization, and consistency with national norms for general education. It focuses on the first 30 credits of general education at CUNY with the overarching intents of developing a broad range of knowledge and skills, and of building a solid intellectual foundation upon which students can engage in successively more sophisticated study and analysis as they progress toward their degrees.

The Common Core structure comprises two parts. The 12-credit “Required Core” consists of requirements in English Composition (six credits), Mathematical and Quantitative Reasoning (three credits), and Life and Physical Sciences (three credits). A variant permits colleges to offer four-credit courses to satisfy the math or science areas, subject to certain provisions.

The second component of the 30-credit structure, the 18-credit “Flexible Core,” requires students to complete six three-credit liberal arts and sciences courses, with at least one course selected from five areas and no more than two courses in any discipline or interdisciplinary field. The five areas are: World Cultures and Global Issues, U.S. Experience in its Diversity, Creative Expression, Individual and Society, and Scientific World.

All Common Core courses must satisfy a detailed list of rigorous learning outcomes. This will ensure that the Common Core has accountability—CUNY can assess the effectiveness of the Common Core against student achievement of the learning outcomes. This approach will also provide the campuses considerable flexibility in terms of what courses they can offer as part of the Common Core. As long as courses satisfy the specified learning outcomes, they can be part of the Common Core. Further, if they wish, campuses can limit the courses in an area of the Common Core to ensure that students take that type of course (e.g., courses in the World Cultures and Global Issues could be restricted to courses that teach a language other than English).

Crucially, the Task Force’s final recommendations reflected constructive, specific recommendations from the campuses on an earlier draft. Michelle J. Anderson, Dean of the CUNY School of Law and Task Force Chair, has detailed these changes in a letter (http://bit.ly/uP4qB2).

As Chancellor Goldstein said when he accepted the Task Force’s recommendations, “the implementation of the new Common Core must be undertaken with the same diligence and care” that characterized its design. Thus, the University is establishing two new committees, each with specific responsibilities. First, under the guidance of Senior University Dean Robert Ptachik, an Implementation Advisory Committee will ensure that the campuses and the Central Office work in tandem to enact changes smoothly. In addition, a Course Review Committee, which was called for in the original resolution, will evaluate campus-submitted courses for their inclusion in the common core. This committee will comprise faculty from many different disciplines and all campuses. Nominations have been solicited. Updates will be posted as soon as possible at www.cuny.edu/pathways, which is the nexus for all information about Pathways.

The June Board resolution also required each college to submit for the Chancellor’s approval a plan for implementing the General Education Framework, which comprises the Common Core plus the baccalaureate-granting colleges’ 12 College-Option general education credits. Initial guidance on developing these plans has been provided. Colleges have been invited to apply for funding to assist with specific elements of these plans. Plans and applications are due on April 1.

Meanwhile, work is under way to meet another requirement specified within the June resolution. Under the leadership of Graduate Center President William Kelly, faculty committees are establishing the first three to six courses that lead into the largest transfer majors at CUNY. The board’s resolution specifies that recommendations for these courses are to be made by May 1, 2012, to the Office of Academic Affairs. Committees are currently focusing on majors in biology, business, criminal justice, English, nursing, psychology, and teacher education.

Perhaps most exciting is the extent to which all of this work has engaged—and will continue to engage—faculty from every CUNY college and so many disciplinary and interdisciplinary areas. The time, attention, and talents that these faculty have dedicated to fulfilling the intellectual promise and potential of the Pathways project—setting high standards for learning outcomes in general-education work, collaborating to define entry-level requirements for the largest transfer majors, and applying their own sophisticated creative and critical-thinking skills to best resolve complex curricular questions—has been nothing short of inspirational. As implementation    progresses, we can take confidence in these extraordinary abilities and motivation and anticipate being able to provide a high-quality, seamless educational experience to all of our students, on all of our campuses. Then, truly, shall the mission of this University—providing access to high-quality education for all students—be fulfilled.

—Alexandra W. Logue

This message was published originally in “Academically Speaking,” a bimonthly newsletter from the Office of Academic Affairs.