Academic Summit

February 6, 2012 | CUNY Matters, The University

Pathways Ahead: Reform and Rigor

CUNY students will be required to take 30 credits in a number of specific and thematic areas, under the new Common Core framework developed by the Pathways to Degree Completion task force headed by Michelle J. Anderson, Dean of the CUNY School of Law.

These general education courses must satisfy specific, rigorous learning outcomes and will be accepted across the University, smoothing the confusing process of transferring credits from community colleges to senior colleges. In addition to the 30-credit Common Core, students at four-year colleges will take 12 “college option” credits in subjects to be determined by each senior college,

The new 30-to-42-credit core modifies requirements previously established by each CUNY college. In some cases colleges now mandate many lower-level courses — up to some 60 credits —and students lose the opportunity and time to explore subjects outside of their major on anything but an introductory level. However, because senior colleges require at least 120 credits for graduation, and community colleges 60, the new core leaves time for students to move more quickly to advanced courses and to explore new academic areas.

The draft Common Core was released in the fall, followed by a flood of feedback from the campuses and revisions by the taskforce, which was divided into a steering committee and a working committee. The task force presented its final proposal in December, saying the new framework would “develop a broad range of knowledge and skills, and … build a solid intellectual foundation upon which students can engage in more sophisticated study and analysis at successively higher levels as they complete their degrees.”

The Pathways task force meetings, communications and deliberations leading up to the final draft were contentious at times, participants said. Areas of discussion and disagreement included college proposals to mandate foreign language, history, speech and other subjects in the core.

Dean Anderson said, “We tried to hear as many faculty members across a range of disciplines as possible, accommodate their perspectives, and honor the integrity and unique character of each CUNY college.” As the committee worked, “discussions were passionate,” she added. “We took votes on everything, and the majority ruled.”

“No one group got what it wanted, but that may have been a great thing,” said steering committee member Paul Attewell, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the Graduate Center. “We were very sensitive to the fact that there are a lot of faculty who have spent years building the general education for their colleges. We understood we were intruding on that space.”

“Every single college had major representation at every stage in the development of the Common Core,” said steering committee member Elizabeth Nunez, Distinguished Professor of English at Hunter College. “For decades I have witnessed individual colleges struggle to establish a core curriculum for their units with varying degrees of success and failure. So it is amazing to me that we were finally able to design a 30-credit Common Core for all CUNY colleges.”

Consisting of three-credit courses, to result in 10 courses and thus flexibility, the first 30 credits of the new Common Core include a 12-credit “required core” — six credits of English Composition; three of Mathematical and Quantitative Reasoning; and three of Life and Physical Sciences. It also includes an 18-credit “flexible core” of six three-credit liberal arts courses including at least one connected with these disciplinary or interdisciplinary fields: World Cultures and Global Issues; U.S. Experience in its Diversity; Creative Expression; Individual and Society; and Scientific World. For each area, a set of expected learning out-comes — aimed at teaching concepts, critical thinking, research, communication, writing, speaking and other skills — was delineated by the task force. The 12 additional credits required at the four-year colleges will be decided entirely by those institutions.

The Board of Trustees approved a resolution in June establishing the Pathways initiative, launched by Executive Vice Chancellor Lexa Logue at Chancellor Goldstein’s request.

Divided into two general phases, Pathways was charged overall with creating a curricular structure to enhance the quality of general education across the University and streamline transfers. The first phase, development of the Common Core, was carried out by the task force chaired by Anderson. Its work spanned five months and included two full-day retreats, at least 11meetings of the steering and working committees, dissemination of reports, updates and other information through www.cuny.edu/pathways website, and much discussion through emails and other means.

The next phase of the Pathways initiative, led by Graduate Center President  William Kelly, will determine University-wide course pathwaysfor CUNY’s most popular transfer majors, making the process of transferring credits from one CUNY college to another more transparent, coherent and efficient. Faculty members from CUNY’s senior colleges and community colleges are meeting together in committees focused on particular disciplines, to identify three to six early courses in majors that will be recommended for students entering those majors. The courses will be made available at all colleges offering the majors.

To prepare for full Pathways implementation in fall 2013, the University will establish two new committees — an Implementation Advisory Committee, with representatives from each campus, to ensure that campuses and the University Central Office work together to smoothly enact changes; and a Course Review Committee of faculty “to review campus-submitted courses for their suitability for the Common Core,” the chancellor said.

Attewell said he was “enthusiastic about the fact that transfer students will get a more transparent and practical way of getting to a B.A. if they start in the community colleges. We realize there will be modifications along the way,” Attewell said of the Pathways process. “Our job was to make the first step. In some ways the first step is the hardest step.’’

To prepare for full Pathways implementation in fall 2013, the University will establish two new committees — an Implementation Advisory Committee, with representatives from each campus, to ensure that campuses and the University Central Office work together to smoothly enact changes; and a Course Review Committee of faculty “to review campus-submitted courses for their suitability for the Common Core,” the chancellor said.

Attewell said he was “enthusiastic about the fact that transfer students will get a more transparent and practical way of getting to a B.A. if they start in the community colleges. We realize there will be modifications along the way,” Attewell said of the Pathways process.  “Our job was to make the first step. In some ways the hardest step of all is yet to come.”