June 27, 2012 | Featured
Dear CUNY Trustees,
Monday evening marked one full year since you approved the resolution that established the Pathways initiative, a set of policies and actions designed to improve student transfer at The City University of New York.
It has now been almost two years since we began the efforts to improve CUNY student transfer. It was in the fall of 2010 that my office released to the entire CUNY community the report by Associate University Provost Julia Wrigley entitled Improving Student Transfer at CUNY (http://www.cuny.edu/about/administration/offices/aa/acr/TransferReport.pdf), and it was that same fall that we started having discussions and unprecedented consultation with the University Faculty Senate and other faculty about the need to find a solution to the transfer problems at CUNY. These problems consist of a frequent lack of transfer of general education and major credit, a sometimes lack of transfer of any credit, delays of often many months in evaluation of transfer students’ transcripts, and the resulting extra time and credits to degree along with the extra cost to students whose financial aid has run out. From October 2010 through June 2011, when you approved the Pathways resolution, members of the central administration attended over 70 meetings with campus members to discuss possible solutions, sent out countless memos and other communications, established an extensive website full of data and other information (www.cuny.edu/pathways), established an online comment form, held an informational webinar in which hundreds of CUNY members participated, and distributed a draft resolution for comment to the entire CUNY community.
During that entire academic year, the most specific solution advocated by the University Faculty Senate as a whole (as opposed to individual members of the UFS, who had a variety of general ideas about how to solve the transfer problems) came in a resolution passed in April 2011: “The University Faculty Senate strongly recommends in order to preserve the richness of general education that the general education requirements at the undergraduate colleges of CUNY be composed of 30 credits plus at least an additional 16 credits.” This resolution did not address general education course content. It addressed only the numbers of general education credits, stating that all colleges should be required to have 30 credits of general education, and the baccalaureate programs should have at least an additional 16. Were this proposal to have been adopted, the total of 46 general education credits would have been in excess of national norms. In addition, the adoption of this proposal would have meant that students transferring with an A.S. or A.A. degree from one of our community colleges to a senior college would have had to complete at least 16 credits of general education courses (more than one full semester), in addition to their major courses, in order to receive their baccalaureate degrees, resulting in these students either having virtually no electives and/or sometimes having to take more than the 120 credits needed for their degrees. It was to avoid just such problems that the CUNY Board of Trustees passed a resolution in 1999 that limited general education requirements for transfer students with A.S. or A.A. degrees to one course. Thus, rather than facilitating CUNY student transfer, the UFS’s resolution, if adopted, would have made some of our transfer students’ degree completion subject to even more constraints.
In the one year since you approved the Pathways resolution, faculty have been deeply involved in the development of Pathways. The resolution specified only that there should be a general education framework for all CUNY colleges, consisting of a certain number of credits, and that there should be agreement on the entry-level courses for the largest transfer majors. The resolution did not specify which courses or disciplines should be used for these purposes—only that the curriculum needed to be designed according to learning outcomes based on recommendations from faculty-dominated committees. Therefore, during the past year, after in every case widely seeking nominations, including from the UFS, we established approximately a dozen university-wide committees composed almost entirely of faculty, and totaling hundreds of tenured faculty, to develop the curricular aspects of Pathways within the framework specified in the Board’s Pathways resolution. These groups worked openly, constantly keeping the entire CUNY community apprised of their progress, and in every case circulating widely their draft recommendations for comment before submitting their final recommendations to the Chancellor. These committees recommended, for example, the general education structure that the Chancellor ultimately approved, including a CUNY-wide Common Core consisting of three-credit courses (with certain exceptions), as is currently typical of general education courses at CUNY. Many hundreds more faculty have been working on Pathways-related matters on their home campuses.
The general education structure that has been approved by the Chancellor has enormous flexibility, flexibility that is now being put into practice as each college has been developing its own particular version of Pathways general education. For example, some colleges are requiring that, under Pathways, their students’ general education will include two years of a language other than English, extensive laboratory science, and/or American History. A major reason that the Pathways general education framework is so flexible is that it is built in accordance with learning outcomes, not required courses, so that each college can choose the courses that it feels will best meet the learning outcomes. The emphasis on learning outcomes is also an approach supported by all major accreditors and by prominent national organizations such as the AAC&U.
Throughout all of the discussion on transfer problems and how to address them, we have tried to point out that giving a student at one college information about other colleges’ requirements, although certainly useful, by itself would not solve the problems. The crux of the problems has been that colleges have often not been giving general education credit for other colleges’ general education courses, or major credit for other colleges’ major courses, so that transfer students were not receiving those types of transfer course credit, and were sometimes not receiving credit at all. Further, our students transfer within CUNY in all possible directions and cannot know, for example, as first-semester community college freshmen, to which senior colleges they will ultimately want to transfer, and whether or not those senior colleges will accept them, thus making it impossible for these students to simply take courses that will transfer to a particular college.
We spent a full academic year considering various solutions to the transfer problems before you approved the Pathways resolution, another academic year during which faculty committees have been developing the Pathways curriculum, and it will be more than another year before Pathways is first actually implemented in September 2013. Following their initial development, Pathways courses must pass through several levels of review and approval before being available in spring 2013 for registration for the fall 2013 semester. It will be yet another year—not until September 2014—before students will first transfer under the Pathways system, and still another year—not until September 2015—before the first students with associate degrees will transfer under Pathways. This five-year-long road—from fall 2010 when we first started working on the transfer issues until fall 2015 when Pathways is fully in effect for all students—has been necessary in order to effect well the Pathways changes within the structures that we have at CUNY. The Pathways courses that will be offered, in addition to being based on rigorous learning outcomes, will have undergone multiple layers of rigorous review—both by a campus and (what is unique to Pathways) by a CUNY-wide committee of tenured faculty with representatives from every campus.
One remarkable fact about the length of time that it is taking to implement Pathways is that so many students, most of whom will have graduated by the time that Pathways is fully in effect, have been so willing to devote so much of their time to supporting this initiative. Their concern and dedication have been admirable and remarkable.
New York State Education Law is clear: CUNY “must remain responsive to the needs of its urban setting and maintain its close articulation between senior and community college units. Where possible, governance and operation of senior and community colleges should be jointly conducted or conducted by similar procedures to maintain the university as an integrated system and to facilitate articulation between units” (Section 6201). With Pathways, we are finally able to effect this New York State directive on behalf of our transfer students, students who represent over 50% of the graduates of each of our senior colleges.
There is much left to accomplish. However, thanks to the outstanding efforts of many hundreds of members of the CUNY community, we are well on our way to significantly improving the educational experiences and success of our transfer students. In particular, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Board for its strong and enduring support on behalf of a quality education for all CUNY students.
Alexandra W. Logue
Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost