Pathways Open, New Choices

March 6, 2013 | CUNY Matters, The University

It’s Pathways ahead.

The University’s new, improved general education and credit-transfer system known as Pathways is now open for registration with students  choosing from a full menu of approved courses for the new core requirements, as well as for 10 popular transfer majors set for a fall 2013 launch.

MazewDiplomaSome 2,000 Common Core courses have been submitted for fall, according to Executive Vice Chancellor Lexa Logue, who has been directing the multifaceted initiative, launched by a Board of Trustees resolution in June 2011 to establish a new general education framework for the University and streamline transfer of general education, major, and elective courses. “All the classes students need are going to be available,” Logue said. “Every single area of the Common Core including English Composition, Life and Physical Sciences, and Math and Quantitative Reasoning, has been approved and are ready.”

Called Pathways to Degree Completion, the Pathways reforms establish a framework of core-course, credit, subject area, and learning requirements for undergraduates while giving colleges flexibility in deciding specific courses and graduation requirements. All entering freshmen and transfer students, and many currently enrolled undergraduates, will plan their academic programs according to the new framework this fall. Even current students who continue their studies at the same college may opt in to Pathways, while some may benefit more from continuing with their original academic sequences. Students should consult their academic advisers, their colleges’ Pathways web pages, and cuny.edu/pathways for more information about course registration, Pathways, and how to make informed choices, Logue said.

The new system requires all undergraduates to take a “Common Core” curriculum consisting of 30 credits, or 10 three-credit courses that have been accepted as meeting “learning outcomes” — specific determinations of what students should learn and know by the end of a course — developed by subject-based faculty committees.

The core consists of a 12-credit Required Common Core — two English Composition courses, one Mathematical and Quantitative Reasoning course, and one Life and Physical Sciences course — and an 18-credit Flexible Common Core of at least one course each in the thematic areas World Cultures and Global Issues, U.S. Experience in Its Diversity, Creative Expression, Individual and Society, and Scientific World.

In addition to the University-wide Common Core, baccalaureate students will take an additional six to 12 “College Option” credits in subjects determined by their colleges, giving the four-year colleges an additional opportunity to put their own stamp on the new general education framework.

“Every college has the option of putting its own flavor on their students’ specific requirements,” said Logue, who noted that some campuses are requiring students to take a science lab or study a foreign language. John Jay College, she pointed out, has incorporated a justice theme “throughout” its general education requirements. The baccalaureate colleges “are doing different things, which is fine,” she commented.

The baccalaureate colleges have also selected their “College Option” courses, Logue said.  A third structural change — the selection, by subject-based faculty committees, of the first three-to-six “gateway” courses into each of 10 of CUNY’s largest transfer majors — has also been completed. Approximately 30 gateway courses have been approved for those majors: biology, business, criminal justice, economics, English, nursing, political science, psychology, sociology and teacher education.

“We have now finished 10 of the majors,” said Logue, who noted that those areas of study are declared by almost two-thirds of CUNY students who have transferred to a senior college and declared a major. “That’s going to greatly help students,” she said, because “they will have the confidence that they will not lose credit” for the gateway courses if they transfer to another CUNY school.

“It can help students who are transferring as soon as this fall” since some have taken some of the approved courses, Logue added.

She suggested that students may come to prefer majoring in subjects with the entry courses already approved University-wide because “if they do have to transfer, they’ll have certain guarantees.” The process of identifying and approving gateway courses for additional CUNY majors and bringing them into the Pathways framework is continuing, she said.

Pathways was initiated by Chancellor Matthew Goldstein in large part to ease a maze of problems experienced for many decades by students transferring from one CUNY college to another. Many found that credits they attempted to transfer were rejected by their receiving colleges, forcing them to repeat classes, lose time and sometimes funds. Often, courses taken at one college as general education or major courses were accepted only as elective courses at another college, leaving students with few or no elective options for enriching their academic experience as juniors or seniors. By having general education courses within a discipline conform to common learning outcomes across the University, successfully completed courses will be able to transfer seamlessly, and there will be a similar process for the gateway courses for the majors.

The Board of Trustees unanimously approved Pathways nearly two years ago following public hearings and extensive University-wide consultation. In February, the New York State Board of Regents approved the University’s new Master Plan, including the Pathways initiative.  In presenting the Master Plan document to the Regents, it was noted that CUNY “is today navigating a course of academic achievement and innovation, while sustaining its traditional roles and responsibilities. Indeed, CUNY is a leader in defining public higher education for the 21st-century, whether developing new approaches to student learning, building collaborative research models, or creatively partnering with the city’s communities.”

The initiative also brings the University’s number of required general-education credits into line with other U.S. universities, and Pathways’ emphasis on specifying learning outcomes for each course and holding courses to those standards, has drawn praise from educators around the country, making Pathways a new general-education model that transcends CUNY.

“Everything  — the courses for general education and the courses for the majors — is done according to learning outcomes,” said Logue. “This helps to guide how the course is taught and how the course is assessed, because then the assessments can be used to make changes in the course in the future — to improve it and to enhance student learning.”

Accreditation organizations such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which accredits individual CUNY colleges, and other professional accreditation processes organized by discipline, “all want” colleges to have specific learning outcomes, she pointed out. She added that federal financial aid can depend on positive reviews by the accreditors.

Accreditors “want to see evidence that the college has an assess-ment plan, … learning outcomes, that the learning outcomes are being assessed and that the information gained from the assessment is being  used to make changes.”

Hundreds of CUNY faculty from every campus and every discipline have participated in steering committees, task forces, and subcommittees that have developed the Common Core, the learning outcomes, the gateway courses for the majors, and other features of the Pathways reform.

Although Pathways was designed primarily by faculty, the initiative has been criticized by Professional Staff Congress leadership and some others who have alleged infringements of faculty’s prerogative in approving and designing curriculum, in part because all of the three-credit core courses will be taught in three contact hours a week, in some cases cutting a fourth contact hour.

“Some faculty members may have to teach more individual courses” under the new system, said Logue, but “the total faculty work load in terms of contact hours stays the same.”

In some cases, “it’s going to mean that faculty have to teach differently than they have,” she said. “But the bottom line is what’s good for our students.”

“The (Pathways) steering committee wanted students to have more courses of three credits, rather than fewer courses of four credits,” she explained. “They wanted that breadth. And in the end, every single Pathways course has been designed and approved by CUNY faculty.”