CUNY Trustees Act To Streamline Student Transfer Policies And Raise Quality of General Education

June 27, 2011 | The University

The Board of Trustees of The City University of New York today unanimously adopted new transfer policies, including a new general education framework, to assure that students who transfer within CUNY will get credit for courses they’ve already taken within the University. This change is expected to improve graduation rates, help more students earn their degrees on time, and save money for students and the University – all while raising academic quality and maintaining high standards.

The Trustees approved a 42-credit general education framework, including a 30-credit “Common Core” for all campuses and 12 “College Option” credits that each campus with baccalaureate programs will designate. Currently, general education requirements vary by campus from 39 to 63 credits, with an average of 51 credits.

Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said the new framework “will strengthen and lift the quality of education at our community colleges and help align coursework more consistently with the senior colleges, further enhancing opportunities for student advancement.”  The Chancellor noted the new framework, at 42 credits, is equal to or exceeds national standards for general education at top quality public universities. These include: University of North Carolina (42), University of Georgia (42), University of Massachusetts (36); University of California, Los Angeles (36), Iowa State University (32), State University of New York (30) and University of Wisconsin at Madison (27).

“In this unforgiving economy and increasingly global competition, students need to earn higher credentials to compete effectively,” the Chancellor said. “The Trustees’ approval of this creative restructuring of general education will help assure that.”

The learning outcomes for the new Common Core will be developed by a special University-wide committee of predominantly faculty, and including students and administrators; it will take effect in Fall 2013. Each college will specify the particular courses that students can take to meet the Common Core’s learning outcomes.

In Fall 2010, approximately 10,000 undergraduates transferred from one CUNY campus to another. Transfer, particularly from community to senior colleges, has become common at CUNY and elsewhere, as the University has shifted remedial courses to community colleges and students have taken advantage of lower tuition at community colleges during the recent recession. Well over half of the graduates at every senior college are transfer students.

Speaking at the June meeting of the Board’s Committee on Academic Policy, Programs and Research, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and University Provost Lexa Logue said that “for more than 40 years, undergraduates have struggled with having their course credits transfer,” not only for general education courses, but also for their major and elective courses. Logue oversaw development of the new transfer policies.

Faculty and administration have tried to improve the situation through articulation agreements among the campuses and the matching of courses for credit by means of the online Transfer Information and Program Planning System (TIPPS). However, Logue said, with more than 700 undergraduate majors, more than 23,000 undergraduate courses, and admission standards at senior colleges on the rise, articulation agreements that take years to negotiate can quickly become out-of-date. “Even the most skilled advisor can be stymied by the CUNY transfer maze,” she said.

The result is “longer times to complete coursework and lack of coverage of all courses by financial aid,” which often will not cover a duplicate course or credits taken in excess of what is required for a degree. “Those two factors decrease the probability that a student will ever graduate and increase the cost of an education to students, the city and the state,” Logue said.

Indeed, the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment estimates that in 2008-09, the 17,634 baccalaureate graduates averaged 130 credits – significantly higher than the required 120 – at a cost to them and the state of $72.5 million. Many of those excess credits are due to students not having received transfer credit for courses they had taken at their original colleges.

The new system has stirred strong opinions for and against. Among the 53 faculty, students and staff who spoke at the public hearing concerning the new transfer policies, those who were completely in favor of the changes outnumbered those who were completely opposed by a ratio of almost 3 to 1.

Several faculty members voiced concern, primarily about whether the new framework would adversely affect academic standards and the faculty’s role in shaping the curriculum.  Students described how they had been hampered and frustrated by their inability to gain credit for courses they had passed.

For example, Gregory Bradford, vice chair of the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities, said that when he transferred from York College to Borough of Manhattan Community College and now to Brooklyn College, the process was “filled with fear and trepidation because there was no way for me to know which of my credits would be accepted by my receiving CUNY college. It made academic advisement uncertain and ultimately forced me to spend an extra semester in order to graduate.”

Washieka Torres, a recent graduate of the College of Staten Island, spoke of how Baruch College had rejected many of the credits her mother had earned at BMCC. “It took her an extra two years to earn her bachelor’s degree, which resulted in a considerable waste of time and a huge waste of money. I think it’s terrific that the University, under the leadership of Chancellor Goldstein, is looking to correct this great injustice,” Torres said.

Elizabeth Nunez, distinguished professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, said “the foundation for knowledge can be laid well within 42 credits.” Personal experience with her niece, who transferred from one CUNY college to another, showed how baffling the current system can be. “I thought I had carefully advised her to take courses that I was convinced would accrue to her core requirements, but it turned out I was wrong. She has 130 credits, but cannot graduate. She is now required to spend another semester at a senior college.”

Chancellor Goldstein will appoint a task force that is to recommend a structure for the Common Core by Dec. 1, 2011. His appointments will be made in consultation with the Council of Presidents, the University Faculty Senate and the University Student Senate.

The task force will develop the broad disciplinary or interdisciplinary areas that will make up the Common Core, as defined by learning outcomes, and will identify the number of credits to be allocated to each area. The task force is authorized to make specific recommendations regarding individual associate- and baccalaureate-degree programs, such as in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

After the task force reports and the Chancellor has approved the Common Core structure, each undergraduate college will specify individual courses that meet the Core and College Option requirements. Any course that is required of all students, but is not part of a student’s major, must fall within the Core or College Option courses.

The Board also moved to create clear pathways for the largest majors. Again in consultation with the Council of Presidents, the University Faculty Senate and the University Student Senate, the Chancellor will convene faculty-predominant committees by academic discipline. By May 1, 2012, these panels will recommend three to six courses that should be accepted as entry-level courses in each major or as prerequisites for such courses; all campuses offering these majors will have to offer these courses and accept them for transfer credit starting in Fall 2013.

In addition, a student’s electives taken at any CUNY college will transfer with full credit to any other CUNY college.

The Board’s resolution also deals with students who transfer into CUNY from outside institutions. Colleges must evaluate these students’ courses expeditiously, giving credit for general education, major, and elective courses if they meet the appropriate learning outcomes. The resolution also authorizes the Chancellor to set up an appeals mechanism for undergraduates who want to challenge the denial of credit.

The University will review and evaluate the pathways policies and the Common Core in each year for the three years beginning in 2013, and every three years after that, and will make modifications as needed for improvement or to meet changing needs.

The University developed the new transfer policies following unprecedented discussion within the CUNY community, including some 70 meetings among members of the central administration and the campuses since last October; posting of information on a public website; articles in internal newsletters; a webinar open to all; and an opportunity taken by about 550 people to submit comments electronically.

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in New York City in 1847 as The Free Academy, the University has 23 institutions: 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the CUNY School of Public Health. The University serves 260,000 academic credit students and 269,808 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program for 32,500 high school students, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 300 high schools throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The University offers online baccalaureate degrees through the School of Professional Studies and an individualized baccalaureate through the CUNY Baccalaureate Degree. More than 1 million visitors and 2 million page views are served each month by www.cuny.edu, the University’s website.