Transfer Route Cleared

July 11, 2011 | CUNY Matters, The University

Plan under way to streamline the University’s costly, frustrating ‘transfer maze.’

New transfer policies and a new general education framework — unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees in June — will assure that students who transfer within CUNY will get credit for courses they’ve taken on any of its campuses. The changes are 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.

The 42-credit general education framework will include 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 is equal to or exceeds national standards for general education at top-quality public universities, including University of North Carolina (42); ­University of California, Los Angeles (36); and State University of New York (30).

The learning outcomes for the new Common Core will be developed by a 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. Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and University Provost Lexa Logue oversaw development of the new transfer policies.

In fall 2010, approximately 10,000 undergraduates transferred from one CUNY campus to another. Transfer, particularly from community to senior colleges, has become common here as it has 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. The trustees’ action recognizes “that community college students, who transfer, especially after graduation, are as well prepared as those who start in a four-year college,” said Eduardo J. Marti, Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges.

Faculty and administration have tried to improve the situation over the years 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 told the Board that 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.

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.”

President Ricardo R. Fernandez of Lehman College observed, “It can be safely said that the current system is obsolete, inefficient and, in the opinion of many, unfair to students.”

Chancellor Goldstein will appoint a task force that is to recommend a broad 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. 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.

The Board also moved to create clear pathways for the largest majors. Again in consultation with the Council of Presidents and Faculty and Student Senates, 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.