From Labyrinth to Pathways

The new Pathways plan for streamlining credit transfers within CUNY promises to improve academic quality and graduation rates plus save money for students and the University.

Tasked with transforming general education and streamlining the credit-transfer process, a distinguished panel of educators has begun to tackle the complexities of developing a new “Common Core” for all CUNY colleges as well as a transparent, efficient and fair system for transferring course credits across the University.

The new Pathways plan for streamlining credit transfers within CUNY promises to improve academic quality and graduation rates plus save money for students and the University.

CUNY Law School Dean Michelle Anderson has been appointed by Chancellor Matthew Goldstein to head the task force, which will develop the Common Core by establishing required credits and learning outcomes in broad disciplinary and interdisciplinary subject areas.

The task force comprises two committees appointed by the chancellor after consultation with the Council of Presidents and the leadership of the University Faculty and Student Senates: the 16-member steering committee, and a 39-member working committee to advise it and serve as a two-way communication channel between the steering committee and the individual colleges, according to Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and University Provost Alexandra Logue.

The Pathways to Degree Completion initiative was established by a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees in late June. The task force includes faculty, as well as student representatives, from every CUNY college, as well as every liberal arts major and transfer major of significant size.

The 42-credit general education framework, to be implemented in 2012, will include the 30-credit Common Core for all campuses and 12 “College Option” credits that each baccalaureate college will designate. Currently, general education requirements vary by senior college campus from 39 to 63 credits, averaging 51 credits.

The task force convened on Aug. 26 for a “tremendously successful” working retreat, Dean Anderson said. Another retreat is scheduled for Oct. 14, and a preliminary draft of the Common Core proposal is to be sketched by Nov. 1 and circulated for feedback  from the campuses before it is to be presented to the chancellor Dec. 1. After he approves the Common Core structure, each undergraduate college will specify individual courses that meet the 30-credit Core requirements.

The Aug. 26 retreat at the Graduate Center — the first joint meeting of the steering and working committees — focused on a key piece of the initiative, identifying the learning outcomes to be required for the Common Core’s various multidisciplinary areas, following “best practices” modeled at other universities.

Anderson said committee members “broke into small groups to deliberate on possible cross-curricular learning outcomes,” such as the ability to understand and criticize sources of information, the ability to communicate through writing or verbally, or to employ quantitative reasoning. “We came up with seven different versions that the steering committee will assimilate and winnow… to provide a touchstone for the work as we go forward.”

“I was very impressed with the engagement and intellectual commitment that the

faculty showed,” Anderson noted.

The Trustees’ resolution called for identifying the multidisciplinary areas of the Common Core and the learning outcomes required for those areas, and for allocating the 30 credits of the Common Core to subject areas. The Board also moved to create clear course pathways for the largest transfer majors. Chancellor Goldstein is to convene faculty-predominant committees by academic discipline, which in spring 2012 will recommend three to six courses to 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.

Graduate School and University Center President William Kelly will lead this group effort, working across the senior colleges and community colleges. The focus will be on the most common transfer majors, including Accounting; Biology; Business Administration, Management and Operations; Criminal Justice and Corrections; English Language and Literature; Finance and Financial Management Services; Nursing; Psychology, and Teacher Education and Professional Development.

Together, the Task Force, chaired by Dean Anderson, and the major committees, chaired by President Kelly, will help solve the knotty issue of creating course “pathways” to streamline what has been described as a confusing, frustrating and unfair process of transferring credits, typically from CUNY’s community colleges to its baccalaureate programs—with students often unclear which credits to take for transfer for general education or for a baccalaureate major.

An immediate result of the Trustees’ vote is that now, no completed-course credits taken at any CUNY college will be totally rejected when the student transfers to another CUNY college. Still to be determined is how such credits will be accepted — for general education or for the major or as electives — at the receiving school.

The University’s new transfer policies and general education framework are expected to improve graduation rates, help more students earn their degrees on time, and save money for students and the University, as well as raise academic quality. Chancellor Goldstein spurred study of the issues and the new Pathways initiative as critical to fulfilling CUNY’s mission as an integrated university.

The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment estimates that in 2008-09, the University’s  17,634 baccalaureate graduates averaged 130 credits — significantly higher than the required 120 — at an excess 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.

Some faculty members have expressed concern about whether the new framework will adversely affect academic standards and the faculty’s traditional role in shaping curricula. But Dean Anderson described the Pathways initiative as a “faculty-driven process” that “pertains to issues that the campuses have been working on for years.”

The faculty are “engaged in a vigorous dialogue on these issues,” Anderson said. “They’re not all from the same perspective, and there is no preordained outcome. … We’re all doing this for CUNY students. All of the faculty members on the task force have a commitment to using this process to strengthen the intellectual achievement of students at CUNY.”