June 27, 2011

Members of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York, today you have before you a historic resolution.

For over 40 years CUNY undergraduates have struggled with having their course credits transfer when they move from one CUNY campus to another. This has been the case for courses they have taken as part of their general education, and as part of their major requirements, as well as for elective courses. All too often, our students have received elective credit for courses they had taken as part of general education or as major courses, even when they did not change majors when transferring. And sometimes they have not received credit at all. This is because, in most cases, transfer credit at CUNY has operated on a course matching system. Courses taken at campus A receive credit at campus B if campus B judges that it has a course that matches the course at campus A. This is the principle behind the TIPPS system (Transfer Information and Program Planning System), the software that faculty and staff have worked so hard to populate with assessments of whether or not courses will transfer with credit.

Because of delays in getting their transfer credits evaluated, and because of frequent assessments that courses do not match, students have taken the wrong courses, and/or had to retake courses, and/or take additional courses, resulting in longer times to complete coursework and lack of coverage of all courses by financial aid, two factors that are known to decrease the probability of a student ever graduating, as well as increasing the cost of an education to students, the city, and the state.

For many decades the minutes of meetings of the CUNY board of trustees, of the CUNY administration, and of CUNY faculty governance bodies have regularly contained evidence of valiant attempts to address the problems faced by CUNY transfer students. New York State Education law considers CUNY to be a single university, and directs CUNY to have easy transfer among its colleges. Yet a variety of research studies and policies have failed to resolve the issues facing our transferring undergraduates.

Now, in 2011, we find that huge proportions of our students are transferring, typical of what is going on across the United States, but perhaps even more frequent at CUNY due to the close physical proximity of our campuses. Last fall alone, approximately 10,000 of our undergraduates transferred from one CUNY campus to another, and at every one of our senior colleges over 50% of the graduates are now transfer students. The typical student at each of our senior colleges is no longer the student who starts at that college as a freshman and graduates from that college; the typical student at our senior colleges is a transfer student, and we must ensure that these students have the same clear and efficient pathways to graduation as do the students who do not transfer.

Articulation agreements have proven of great worth to the pairs of colleges that have established them, and high-quality academic advising is also critical. However, with CUNY students transferring between all possible pairs of colleges, with over 700 undergraduate majors and over 23,000 undergraduate courses, with admissions standards at senior colleges constantly increasing, and with articulation agreements sometimes taking years to establish and becoming out-of-date as soon as one of the colleges changes one course, articulation agreements are not a viable method for assisting the majority of our students with transfer, and even the most skilled advisor can be stymied by the CUNY transfer maze.

It is time for CUNY to take comprehensive action to break down these barriers for our students, to respect our students’ right to transfer seamlessly among the different campuses of our single university according to their needs and interests, though subject to the admissions standards of the different colleges.

It is also time to recognize, indeed celebrate, the many thousands of wonderful CUNY faculty who have done outstanding work on the curriculum of individual courses, of programs, and of degrees. We need to build on that work, including the particular curricular needs, interests, and traditions of the individual campuses. Faculty knowledge and creativity, and campus individuality and flexibility, are foundational to a strong CUNY.

With all of these principles in mind, the resolution before you now addresses transfer credit issues in terms of the three main parts of any undergraduate curriculum: general education, major, and electives.

The first part concerns general education courses, with the resolution establishing a general education framework for all of CUNY, one that will prepare students for lifelong learning and intellectual success. The general education framework itself consists of two parts: the common core and the college option. The common core will consist of 30 credits that will apply to all A.A., A.S., and baccalaureate students. These 30 credits will be divided into curricular areas defined according to learning outcomes by a task force consisting predominantly of faculty. Each college’s faculty will then submit its choice of courses to satisfy these learning outcomes. The college option will comprise an additional 12 credits of general education for baccalaureate students (for a total of 42 general education credits for baccalaureate students, a bit high compared to national norms), with the college option courses determined by the faculty at the individual baccalaureate colleges. Students who satisfy any part of the general education framework at any college will be deemed to have satisfied that part at all CUNY colleges. In addition, to ensure that associate-degree students do not have to take significant numbers of general education courses in the latter part of their college careers (when they should be focusing on their majors and electives), the number of college-option credits that a student transferring from an associate to a baccalaureate program must take will be limited according to how many total credits that student has accumulated at the time of transfer.

The second part of the resolution concerns major courses. In order to ensure that students can begin a major at any CUNY college and then transfer seamlessly in that same major to any other CUNY college, faculty from across CUNY will convene and decide on the first three to six courses that lead into the largest transfer majors.

The third part of the resolution concerns electives. A student’s electives taken at any CUNY college will transfer with full credit to any other CUNY college.

The resolution contains provisions for students transferring to a CUNY college from outside of CUNY, as well.

The specifics of this resolution have been significantly shaped and refined by unprecedented discussion and consultation among members of the CUNY community, involving some 70 meetings between representatives of the central administration and of the campuses since last October, including a great many with the University Faculty Senate, posting of all types of information on a public website, newsletter articles, a webinar open to all, and an opportunity for CUNY community members to submit their comments electronically, an opportunity taken by about 550 people. As a result of all of the feedback received, the final resolution before you now went through several iterations and incorporates many changes from the original draft resolution distributed in January. A few examples of these changes are:

  • The general education credits for the community colleges have been changed from 36 to 30.
  • The college-option general education credits whose content will be decided entirely by the individual senior colleges have been changed from 6 to 12.
  • The number of college-option credits to be taken by associate to baccalaureate transfers has been changed from 6 to as much as 12 depending on how many previous total credits the transfer student has taken.
  • The possibility of a special set of general education requirements for some majors (such as those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) has been permitted.

With this resolution, the special role of the faculty in determining curriculum will be preserved, and colleges will have considerable flexibility and individuality. At the same time, the rights of students to transfer and have their course credits transfer with them will be protected. Students will have clear general education and major pathways, no matter at which campus they start and at which campus they finish. CUNY students will attend a single, integrated, university. Further, given the predominant role of the faculty in all of this work, with faculty from all over CUNY working together, standards will not only be maintained, but will be increased.

This resolution was approved at The Board’s Committee on Academic Policy, Programs, and Research (CAPPR) on June 6. It was also discussed at the public hearing on June 20, where a large majority of those who spoke, including faculty, staff, and students, were strongly in favor of the resolution.

It is time for CUNY to break with its long history of putting barriers in front of transfer students’ graduation goals. It is time for CUNY to respect all of its faculty, and to ask them to work together, across campuses, for the betterment of all CUNY students. It is time for there to be clear, faculty-defined, high-standard, efficient educational pathways for the CUNY undergraduate body. It is time to vote in favor of this resolution.

This is indeed a historic moment for CUNY and I would like to take a minute to acknowledge some of the great many people who made this moment possible.

First, I want to thank the great many faculty and staff who productively shared their experiences and knowledge with us, helping to modify and shape a resolution that would best help students and the university. These are very complex issues and it takes many intelligent and experienced people to effectively look at all of the angles involved.

The staff in the central Office of Academic Affairs were particularly dedicated to the project, and a great, great many people there worked tirelessly, beginning with Associate University Provost, Dr. Julia Wrigley, whose report on transfer at CUNY last October opened the CUNY-wide discussion of the issues.

The presidents also were outstanding in their leadership on the issues related to this resolution, and I want to particularly mention the Academic Affairs Committee of the Council of Presidents, led by President Russ Hotzler, whose views and insight and experience greatly and positively informed the work.

Members of the Chancellor’s cabinet also provided their expertise and leadership, with virtually every one of them being involved at some point, because major CUNY-wide academic issues such as those related to this resolution touch on virtually every area of the university. The members of the Chancellor’s cabinet were always ready to assist in every way possible.

The unified support of the trustees, led with distinction by our chair, Benno Schmidt, was also critical to this resolution. If there is one matter that unites our trustees it is their deep caring for our students, and they showed that care repeatedly during this past year’s discussion of transfer issues.

That brings me to our Chancellor, Matthew Goldstein. His leadership has always been legendary and that legend continues with the passage of this resolution. From when he first became Chancellor in 1999, and even before, he saw the challenges for our transfer students as causing huge problems and he wanted to fix these problems. He has led and shaped this resolution all along the way, and his conviction and determination have been an inspiration to us all.

Last I must mention our students, led by University Student Senate Chair Cory Provost. Many students are in the audience today. Your support of this resolution has been spectacular. You have, at all stages, conducted yourselves with the utmost intelligence and professionalism. You have, in many cases, sacrificed huge amounts of your time to help make a difference that will benefit, not you yourself, but will benefit the many tens of thousands of CUNY students who will come after you. You are a shining example of what this university is all about. We are all so proud that you are our students, and that someday you will represent CUNY as CUNY alumni!

Thank you everyone.