Streamlining Transfer for CUNY Students in the Bronx

by Martin Kurzweil, Cindy Le, and Alexandra W. Logue

Reposted with permission from the Ithaka S+R blog: .

Approximately one-third of college students begin their postsecondary education in community colleges, yet over 80 percent of these students aspire to earn at least a bachelor’s degree. In order to achieve their goals, these students will need to transfer from their community colleges (which mostly offer associate’s degrees) to colleges that offer bachelor’s degrees. Yet, only 13 percent of students successfully transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of entering community college. Black and Hispanic students and lower-income students are the most likely to face obstacles in their transfer journey to a bachelor’s degree.

When students transfer from one college to another, one challenge that jeopardizes their ability to earn degrees is that they frequently are unable to count their previously earned credits toward degree requirements at their new institutions. Nationally, it is estimated that 43 percent of credits are wasted during transfer. This credit loss and the need to repeat courses they have already passed costs students time and is deeply discouraging; it also wastes their money, contributes to increased debt, and puts financial aid eligibility at risk. It is no wonder that students who lose half their transfer credits are far less likely to graduate than students who are able to transfer most of their credits.

The COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate this problem. Due to closed campuses, concerns about affordability and contagion within dormitories, and restrictions on travel, we should expect both more students to change colleges and more students to choose local, affordable community colleges over bachelor’s-degree colleges, at least temporarily. For these reasons, even more students will need to transfer their credits in order to obtain their desired degrees. Failing to streamline the acceptance of credit will mean that these students will waste credits when they can least afford to do so.

Articulation of Credit Transfer at CUNY

Since June 2019, a team of researchers and administrators from Ithaka S+R, the CUNY Graduate Center, Hostos Community College, Lehman College, the CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA), and the University of California, Berkeley has been engaged in a multi-faceted effort to improve the transfer process for students at CUNY. This project, which we’ve taken to calling, “Articulation of Credit Transfer,” or ACT, is focused on streamlining and enhancing credit information, advising, and transcript evaluation for CUNY transfer students.

At CUNY, 58 percent of students are Black or Hispanic, 61 percent are Pell Grant recipients, 61 percent will be the first in their families to graduate college, and 82 percent graduated from a New York City public high school, with all of these percentages being higher in the CUNY community colleges than in the CUNY bachelor’s-degree-granting colleges. Facilitating transfer at CUNY is an important higher education equity issue.

Based on promising early results in the first year of work, we are pleased to announce that our original funder, the Heckscher Foundation for Children, has awarded Ithaka S+R and its collaborators a new grant to further develop the tools created through the project, to fully implement the interventions at Hostos and Lehman, and to include in the project the third CUNY college in the Bronx, Bronx Community College (BCC).

Over half of Hostos and BCC students who transfer to a CUNY bachelor’s-degree-granting college transfer to Lehman, and almost two-thirds of Lehman’s transfer students who come from within CUNY come from Hostos or BCC. Thus, facilitating transfer among BCC, Hostos, and Lehman has the potential to benefit the majority of CUNY students in the Bronx who aspire to a bachelor’s degree. Through this work, our aim is to create a transfer ecosystem in the Bronx that is a model for CUNY and beyond.

Progress to Date

In just the first 12 months of this effort, the ACT team has made significant progress in interpreting CUNY’s course transfer data, developing processes and applications to support students and advisors, and directly intervening to improve students’ transfer outcomes. Activities completed and underway include:

  • Full implementation of an electronic workflow management system for quick and efficient credit evaluation at Lehman. Most transfer credit evaluations now take less than 24 hours, compared to an average of two months previously, which helps transfer students declare majors and register significantly earlier than in the past. Earlier registration is critical if transfer students are to register for the courses that help them make progress towards their degrees, instead of finding those courses already full.
  • Implementation of daily archiving of degree audit data for a cohort of Hostos-to-Lehman transfer students, and analysis of those data to identify credit transfer problems. In just two months this spring, reports generated from the archived data have allowed Lehman and Hostos staff to identify and contact more than 220 transfer applicants to share preliminary transfer credit information for their intended majors, to facilitate optimal course decisions when they transfer, and to ensure ongoing support throughout their transfer process. For about five percent of these students, the increase in registered credits counting toward their degrees made them eligible to receive New York State Tuition Assistance that they otherwise would not have received.
  • Development of a new Transfer Explorer web tool, publicly hosted by Lehman, that offers organized, searchable, publicly available information on course transfer rules across every undergraduate institution in CUNY. Anyone can now see how any CUNY course transfers (or not) within CUNY, with no login required. In just a few weeks since its launch, nearly two-thousand users have accessed the site, and the site’s transparency has already catalyzed significant clean-up of obsolete and incorrect transfer rules. See our previous blog post for more details on Transfer Explorer.
  • Agreement by Hostos to adopt Lehman’s non-CUNY transfer credit rules, thus enabling students who transfer from outside CUNY to Hostos and then to Lehman to avoid duplication and possible loss of financial aid.
  • Integration of information about transfer into chatbots under development at both Lehman and Hostos.
  • Development and testing of an algorithm that predicts courses that should be judged as equivalent across both Hostos and Lehman.

These efforts seem to be paying off. While it is not an apples-to-apples comparison, the Spring 2020 students with any transfer credits that did not count toward their degree had an average of 15 percent of their credits not count, compared to 18 percent for Fall 2019 students.

Goals and Activities in the New Grant Period

In the next phase of the project, we will continue to improve these tools and processes, and we will fully implement them at Hostos, Lehman, and BCC. Planned activities include:

  • Further development of the public interface of Transfer Explorer to include additional features, such as the inclusion of information from CUNY’s degree audit system to present public and transparent information about how transfer courses apply to degrees at every CUNY campus.
  • Development of an internal, faculty- and administrator-focused interface for Transfer Explorer. This interface will be available to any CUNY campus and will incorporate the electronic workflow management system now in use at Lehman for evaluation of transfer credit. This interface will allow for communication between faculty across different institutions regarding course equivalency review and resolution.
  • Expansion of the archiving process that allows real-time review of how transferred courses apply to degree requirements, so that the archive includes all students transferring from Hostos and BCC to Lehman, and, eventually, all new Hostos and BCC students.
  • Implementation of improvements in course evaluation, policy review, and transfer student advising at BCC, and continued process improvements at Hostos and Lehman.
  • Utilization of data available to expand reverse transfer to provide associate’s degrees to Hostos and BCC students who transfer before earning them.

With these additional efforts, CUNY students transferring among the campuses in the Bronx—and across CUNY more generally—will have more and clearer information, more targeted advice, and more rapid and streamlined service than ever before. When students, advisers, and faculty have more information earlier in the process, the students will not only have a better experience, but will be empowered to earn their degree on a faster timeline.

We thank the Heckscher Foundation for Children for funding this work.

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