Academic News

Six Questions and Answers Regarding Pathways

April 25, 2012

1. What prompted the Pathways initiative?

Pathways was initiated solely to help students. Many students at CUNY start in associate degree programs. Those who want baccalaureate degrees generally transfer to senior colleges. What’s more, students transfer in all directions within CUNY (e.g., senior college to community college; senior college to senior college) for a variety of academic and personal reasons. We owe it to students not to put obstacles in the way of their academic progress.

In the past, CUNY’s colleges each developed their own variants of general education, which differed significantly in their course requirements and in their number of credits. This made it difficult for students to transfer within the CUNY system without facing new requirements, delays, and uncertainties as a result of credit evaluation. Too often, credits that met general education or major requirements at the home college were transformed into elective credit at the receiving college. This does students a disservice. Over time, general education requirements have grown and have become more complex, to the point where they have become a major stumbling block for students trying to complete their degrees. In many cases, CUNY colleges’ requirements are far more numerous than those at other public university systems.

2. What effect will Pathways have on CUNY’s standards?

Standards will be strengthened. The new general education requirements will bring CUNY in line with other leading universities. In addition to general education requirements, students will continue to fulfill all major, liberal arts, residency, and GPA requirements to earn their CUNY degrees. Under Pathways, more students will have enhanced opportunities to engage in intellectual exploration, to pursue double majors or minors, and to take additional upper-level courses.

In the past, senior colleges have had little influence on the general education courses taken by community college students, many of whom transfer to senior colleges. A 1999 Board of Trustees policy mandates that students who transfer with AA or AS degrees can be required to take only one additional general education course. Under Pathways, all students transferring from a community college to a senior college will be required to take at least six credits of general education as determined by the receiving senior college. And all community-college students-as well as senior-college students-will take general education courses that have been approved by a university-wide committee consisting of senior members of the faculty.

3. How will Pathways affect what courses colleges can offer?

The Common Core is very flexible. Colleges have already shown that they can create their own distinctive approaches to the core. For instance, those that want to require four semesters of foreign language for most of their students can do so-as Hunter College plans to do. Those that want to offer-or require-science labs can do so. Those that want to require American history can make this choice, as can those that want to require psychology or any other liberal arts or interdisciplinary field. It is the colleges that decide which courses to submit for each area of the Common Core. Senior colleges also exclusively decide on the content of their 12 College Option credits.

4. How have faculty been involved in the Pathways initiative?

Hundreds of faculty members have participated, and continue to participate, in shaping Pathways. The Board of Trustees has the sole authority under New York State Education Law and its Bylaws to make educational policy at CUNY. In the case of Pathways, the Board of Trustees adopted a resolution that created a basic framework consisting of a Common Core of 30 credits and an additional six to 12 College Option credits for senior colleges. The resolution did not include any provision about the curricular areas within the Common Core; it delegated the power to make recommendations to a committee overwhelmingly made up of faculty. The committee’s recommendations were accepted by the chancellor.

Under Pathways, faculty members at colleges maintain their full authority over the development of courses and will decide which curricular areas to emphasize in the Common Core.

5. How will Pathways affect foreign language courses?

Under Pathways, all colleges have the option to require foreign language study, as Hunter College is doing. Senior colleges can require students to take at least four semesters of a language other than English, and community colleges can require two semesters of a language other than English. Colleges may also decide to tie course requirements to proficiency levels, requiring a larger or smaller number of language courses depending on a student’s existing language proficiency.

6. How does Pathways address science courses? Will science courses transfer to other universities?

The teaching of science remains a priority at CUNY through the Pathways initiative. The facts are: 1) students must take at least six credits of science in CUNY’s new Common Core; 2) colleges can structure these courses as they wish to include lecture, lab, or both; and 3) to satisfy the Common Core, students can take science courses required for science majors, and these courses can consist of as many credits and contact hours as the college chooses.

There is a good deal of evidence indicating that students will be able to transfer Common Core science courses to other universities. These courses will have been developed and vetted by their colleges. Some CUNY colleges currently require three-credit/three-contact-hour general education science courses for non-science majors, similar to the requirement at most SUNY campuses, the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, Penn State, and many other colleges and universities.