CUNY Expands Associate Degree Eligibility Benefiting Thousands of Transfer Students

February 24, 2016 | The University

More than 6,000 City University of New York students who each year transfer from community colleges to senior colleges will be eligible to receive an associate degree while studying for a bachelor’s degree under a new CUNY program Chancellor James B. Milliken announced today.

The CUNY Board of Trustees today authorized all CUNY colleges offering associate degrees to evaluate transcripts of students who have transferred into baccalaureate programs to determine whether students have met the requirements for and thus earned the associate degrees they had originally sought.  If so, the associate degree will be awarded as the students pursue advanced degrees.

“We know that many students transfer to senior colleges before earning associate degrees and we want to do everything we can to give our students every credential they’ve earned and give them an advantage in the marketplace.” Chancellor Milliken said. “The associate degree can also advance their careers, studies and earning power. Because CUNY is an integrated university, we can support students who choose to pursue baccalaureate studies while assuring that they get the valuable associate degree that had first attracted them to the University.”

J. Noah Brown, president and CEO of the nationwide Association of Community College Trustees said, “Once again CUNY has shown great leadership by putting students and student completion first by emphasizing the importance of the associate degree as a pathway to academic and occupational success.”

The Trustees intend that degrees be awarded systemwide starting with the spring 2016 commencements.

CUNY launched a pilot program in 2013 that so far has awarded 237 associate degrees to students who started at Bronx, Hostos and Queensborough Community Colleges. The pilot began as an informal arrangement among the Bronx colleges, led by Lehman College; it quickly spread to Queens, spearheaded by Queensborough.

The new option is an example of how the University carries out the Legislature’s requirement that CUNY “remain responsive to the needs of its urban setting and maintain close articulation between senior and community college units.” About 70 percent of CUNY’s new students start in an associate program. At the bachelor’s level, about two-thirds of students enter as transfer students, most of them from within CUNY.

With about one-third of all students switching institutions at least once before earning a degree, many universities across the country are considering this associate-degree option. In one notable example this practice accounted for 34 percent of the recent increase in associate degrees at the University of Hawai’i Manoa, the system’s main campus; the university reported that it more than doubled the number of associate degrees from 1,360 in 2008-2009 to 2,804 in 2013-2014.

CUNY also is exploring whether it can retroactively grant associate degrees to students who have left the University without earning bachelor’s degrees but have fulfilled all of the requirements for associate degrees.

This latest initiative is one of several that CUNY has been taking to boost graduation rates and provide students with the earned credentials they need to have successful careers.  In addition to today’s action, these include:

  • In its boldest move, the University is transforming Bronx Community College; starting next fall, all incoming students there will join CUNY’s nationally recognized ASAP Program (Accelerated Studies in Associate Programs), which has seen three-year associate-degree graduation rates soar to 57 percent – far above the national average.  That is part of CUNY’s effort to use $42 million in city funding to expand ASAP  systemwide from some 4,000 students to more than 25,000 by 2018. That effort will focus on increasing enrollment in science, technology, engineering and math at six community colleges and three senior colleges that offer associate degree programs: City Tech, College of Staten Island and Medgar Evers College.
  • CUNY Start, a pre-matriculation college preparation program for those requiring remediation, will enroll between 3,600-3,900 students this year.
  • CUNY Start will increase its new Summer Start eight-week math intervention to 4,000 students over the next four years, which will double the size of CUNY Start in four years.
  • A new scholarship program will be created to provide additional support to CUNY students who earn an associate’s degree and transfer to a CUNY senior college.