CUNY has large student transfer flows among its colleges, with students needing remediation starting at community colleges and then transferring to pursue baccalaureate degrees, and many other students transferring to meet their academic interests. To enhance these students’ progress, CUNY must insure that its transfer system operates smoothly, efficiently, and with high quality. Traditionally, students in associate-level degree programs tended to complete those degrees before moving into baccalaureate programs. But in practice, a majority of CUNY students who transfer within the University from an associate degree program to a baccalaureate program do so without having completed the associate degree. Thus, they do not benefit from current transfer guarantees extended to students who hold AA or AS degrees, including, in particular, the provision that they will be considered to have completed lower-division general education requirements. Many other students–30 percent of baccalaureate graduates–transfer from one senior college to another within CUNY or into CUNY from other universities, and also do not benefit from current transfer guarantees.

The current system also imposes other costs. Transfer students suffer from delays in the evaluation of their credits. This can make it hard for them to know what to take and can lead to their taking courses that do not advance their progress to graduation while they await word on their transfer credits. Students may not be eligible for financial aid while they wait to have their transcripts evaluated. Students also face considerable uncertainty, as CUNY colleges are often inconsistent in how they evaluate transfer courses. This inconsistency arises from CUNY’s course-match system, under which colleges search for equivalencies. They look for courses that match those in their own college’s curriculum.

As the CUNY colleges have evolved and differentiated, however, they often do not have clear matches for courses offered at other CUNY colleges. Colleges can also differ in whether they accept a transfer course as meeting general education or major requirements or whether they are accepted only for elective credit. This can be consequential for students, as elective credits may add to students’ credit totals without helping them progress toward their degrees. This in turn can lead to students acquiring more credits than they need to graduate, which can be costly for them if they have used up their financial aid and is also costly for CUNY as an institution. And finally, obstacles to graduation delay students’ entry into their careers, or into advanced study, and also increase the risk of students dropping out before completing their degrees.

Transfer students face particular difficulties in navigating CUNY’s course structure, but problems with complex and unclear requirements affect transfer and non-transfer students alike. Many students, including both those who transfer and those who start and finish at the same college, acquire excess credits before graduating. To help create clearer pathways to graduation, we propose to structure general education requirements in a manner that facilitates the movement of students among the CUNY colleges without loss of credit, as well as helping non-transfer students graduate in a timely manner, and to create transfer pathways into the majors most commonly taken by transfer students. We also aim to insure that CUNY colleges provide credit for all college-level liberal arts courses taken at other CUNY colleges. If these steps were taken, CUNY students could be sure that every college-level liberal arts course they took at the University would transfer as a general education or major requirement or as an elective.

CUNY could fulfill the spirit of an integrated university by creating clear curricular pathways for students who move among or within any of its colleges. This would reduce risk, cost, and uncertainty for students and would also allow the University to better meet its access mission. With these goals in mind, we propose the plan below.

Proposed Plan

The first component of the plan would be the creation of a common general education framework across the colleges. Many of the CUNY colleges have long-standing general education requirements that reflect a time when our students were less mobile and were expected to complete their degree requirements at the college they first entered. However, while recognizing that each of these general education distributions has merit, as a system we have a responsibility to our students to ensure that our general education requirements are structured in a manner that facilitates the movement of students among the colleges without the loss of credit.

If CUNY set the number and overall type of general education credits required at its undergraduate colleges, students would know exactly what requirements they would have to meet at any CUNY college. This would reduce the number of students acquiring more credits than they need to graduate, which would save resources for them and for the larger community.

Contingent upon approval by the Board of Trustees, we propose that the Chancellor, in consultation with the Council of Presidents, the University Faculty Senate, and the University Student Senate, convene a task force of faculty, students, and academic administrators and charge it with creating a common general education framework for the undergraduate colleges of the University. The framework would set credit requirements in general education across broad disciplinary (or interdisciplinary) areas. It would consist of a maximum of 36 credits of lower-division general education courses, with senior colleges able to add up to six credits of lower- or upper-division credits at their option. This framework would apply to all A.A., A.S., and baccalaureate degrees. In the case of students pursuing A.A.S. degrees, which may contain less than 36 general education credits, all liberal arts courses for those degrees would be drawn from the courses approved for general education requirements.

The Task Force would also specify the criteria by which courses would qualify as satisfying the requirements of a disciplinary or interdisciplinary area, and those criteria would be based on learning outcomes. Once these steps were completed, faculty members at CUNY colleges would select courses for the areas within the general education framework.

The second component of the plan is to establish that all liberal arts and science courses taken for credit at CUNY colleges be accepted for credit at other CUNY colleges, regardless of whether a specific equivalency exists at the transfer college, consistent with the student meeting grade requirements and residency rules at the transfer college.

Third, CUNY would create clear pathways for the largest transfer majors. The Chancellor, in consultation with the Council of Presidents, the University Faculty Senate, and the University Student Senate, would convene relevant disciplinary committees of faculty, students, and academic administrators. Each disciplinary committee would specify no fewer than three and no more than six courses in the major or cognate fields that would be accepted as entry-level major courses or as prerequisites for such courses by all colleges offering those majors.

These three steps would offer CUNY students clarity about the transferability of lower level courses for general education or major credit, and further insure that all credited liberal arts course taken at one CUNY college receive transfer credit at any other CUNY college.