CUNY Secures Mellon Foundation Funding to Augment Study of ‘Leaky Pipeline’ Between Community College and B.A. Degrees

Making Transfers EasierCUNY researchers have secured a $550,000 award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to analyze the factors that may promote or hinder community-college-to-senior-college transfer among students with interests in the humanities. The award marks the next step in CUNY’s ongoing push to diagnose and repair leaks in the pipeline between community college and bachelor’s degrees.

Investigators Alexandra Logue, Chet Jordan and Colin Chellman will focus on students at Guttman Community College during the first year of the three-year grant period; they will widen their lens in the second and third years to examine all seven of CUNY’s community colleges, said principal investigator Logue, a research professor at the Center for Advanced Study in Education at CUNY’s Graduate Center.

“It is imperative that we better understand the factors that impede the progress of associate degree students as they work on the road to earning a bachelor’s degree in order to help them meet their educational and career goals,” said Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz. “Professor Logue and her colleagues have been immersed in these challenging matters, and this new grant from the Mellon Foundation will enable them to delve deeper, synthesizing insights that can be useful to educators at universities across the country.”

It has been understood for decades that the pathway from an associate’s degree program to one in which students work toward a bachelor’s degree is fraught with obstacles. More than 30 percent of U.S. students begin their post-secondary studies at a community college. And while more than eight in 10 of those students say their goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree, only 17 percent will have attained one after six years. At CUNY, that number stands at 11 percent.

The Mellon Foundation award will complement a four-year, $1.4 million grant for transfer research from the Institute of Education Sciences of the federal Department of Education, which Logue and Chellman secured in August in partnership with MDRC, a highly regarded social research organization. That study, titled “A Leaky Pipeline: Community College Students and Pathways to the Bachelor’s Degree,” seeks to pinpoint specific stages in the transfer pipeline at which students hit snags, along with an analysis of the supports that could enable them to avert the drop-off and make a successful transition.

“Together, the two grants will allow us to collect significant amounts of new information that will benefit countless transfer students and aspiring transfer students,” said Logue.

“We already know that many of the reasons for the leaks in this pipeline are due to environmental obstacles that community college students working toward a bachelor’s degree must face,” Logue added. “For reasons of opportunity and equity, we must find out how and why the significant leaks in this pipeline are occurring, so that we can then begin to design effective interventions.”

Where researchers have examined the relationships between students’ majors and ability to successfully transfer, the focus has generally been on students in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, math). Although community college students most frequently study general liberal arts and sciences, this study will be the first to focus on transfer by those who are majoring in the humanities.

“We don’t know when they’re being lost … and until you know who’s dropping out of the program, and when they’re being lost, you don’t know where to begin your intervention,” Logue said.

Some of the challenges that can affect community college students who are navigating the transition to a bachelor’s degree program are: inadequate advising; course unavailability; and the loss of some credits as a result of their transfer, or the reclassification of those credits to electives that don’t count toward their major.

“These all serve to make an education more complicated for those students,” said Logue. “They already come from complicated environments; the longer it takes for them to progress on the pathway to a bachelor’s degree, the greater the chance that something happens to interrupt that process.”

Logue is the author of Pathways to Reform: Credits and Conflict at The City University of New York, a book about the college transfer issue published in 2017. She has donated all of the net proceeds from book sales — $15,000 to date — to fund transfer scholarships for CUNY ASAP students who have earned an associate’s degree and want to now work toward a bachelor’s.

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, CUNY counts 13 Nobel Prize and 24 MacArthur (“Genius”) grant winners among its alumni. CUNY students, alumni and faculty have garnered scores of other prestigious honors over the years in recognition of historic contributions to the advancement of the sciences, business, the arts and myriad other fields. The University comprises 25 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, CUNY Graduate Center, Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 275,000 degree-seeking students. CUNY offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies.