Turning credit transfer from a black box into an open book

Approximately a third of college students begin their post-secondary education at community colleges, yet more than 80 percent of these students aspire to obtain at least a bachelor’s degree. In order to achieve their goals, these students will need to move from their community colleges (which primarily offer associate’s degrees) to colleges that offer bachelor’s degrees. However, 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 low income students are the most likely to encounter obstacles in their journey to a bachelor’s degree.

A significant challenge that these students—and all students transferring between colleges—face is that they are often unable to count their previously earned credits toward degree requirements at their new institutions. At the national level, it is estimated that 43% of credits are lost during the transfer. This loss of credit, with the accompanying need to repeat completed courses, costs students time and is deeply discouraging; it also wastes their money, contributes to increased debt, and jeopardizes financial aid eligibility. It’s no wonder that students who lose half of their transfer credits are much less likely be graduated than students able to transfer most of their credits.

Part of what makes credit transfer such a stumbling block is that the process is too often a Black Box – not only for students, but also for advisors and institutional leaders. the Articulation of Transfer Credit Project (ACT) is an effort to turn the transfer credit black box into an open book for the benefit of transfer students.

Since 2019, ACT has developed and put actionable insights into the credit articulation and transfer process into the hands of students, counselors, institutional leaders, and the public. ACT, which is part of A2B–Associate to Bachelor–project groupis a collaboration between the nonprofit research and advisory group Ithaca S+R and City University of New York researchers, administrators, and faculty (CUNY), with the generous support of the Heckscher Foundation for Children and the Carroll & Milton Petrie Foundation. While many of the new resources created by ACT are usable by the entire CUNY community (and beyond), ACT facilitated a community of practice among seven CUNY colleges, in four of New York’s five boroughs, to design and implement applications of these resources. who help their transfer students. The partners of the ACT college are: Bronx Community College, Brooklyn College, Guttman Community College, Hostos Community College, Lehman College, Queens Collegeand Queensborough Community College.

Over the years, ACT has iteratively developed many lines of work. While their specific goals and details differ, they share the same theme of unpacking credit transfer details and processes, and reassembling them to make them accessible, clear, and usable for students and those who support them.

Here are examples of ACT developments:

  • The creation of Transfer Explorer (https://explorer.cuny.edu), also known as T-Rex, which for the first time makes the course equivalencies involved in transferring between any combination of CUNY colleges transparent and publicly available. Transfer Explorer has been viewed by over 40,000 unique users since its launch in May 2020.
  • CUNY’s credential audit software’s real-time retrieval of program requirements for each degree and certificate program offered at each CUNY college. Program requirements information was used to create a new feature in Transfer Explorer (in beta form) where users can easily see how any course taken at a CUNY college counts towards the program requirements for any program offered by any other CUNY college.
  • The creation of a degree audit database, updated daily, tracking changes in how CUNY student credits count toward their degree. Among other applications, we’ve equipped transfer counselors at CUNY partner colleges with a dashboard that shows in real time when a student’s course enrollment, major choice, or other action results in some of their earned credits or currently enrolled courses that do not count towards their academic program. . Counselors at Lehman College and Brooklyn College used this information just in time to step in and help more than 600 transfer students count more of their transfer credits, and more credits from their new courses, toward their new degrees; these interventions have enabled dozens of these students to maintain their eligibility for financial aid.
  • The development and administration of a Transfer Intentions Survey for community college students, which enabled advisors from partner community colleges to begin working with over 500 students to map their potential transfer paths from beginning of their enrollment in community college.
  • The creation of a daily-updated database recording the time between each step of the transfer process – from application to admission to evaluation of transcripts and beyond – for each transfer student at each college CUNY. Among other products, with this information, ACT created charts comparing the median days between transfer student admission and first assessment of transcripts for each CUNY undergraduate college, and shared all of this information with all leaders. CUNY institutions.

All of these efforts have combined to dramatically improve the transfer experience and transfer outcomes for students at CUNY Partner Colleges and beyond. As a concrete example, in the pair of colleges that ACT has worked with the longest – Hostos Community College and the Lehman College bachelor’s degree – the share of transfer students from Hostos who were able to count all of their transfer credits toward their Lehman degree is increased from 58% in fall 2019 to 72% in fall 2021, an improvement of 24%.

This is just the beginning of what the ACT team aims to accomplish. The next steps will be to improve the tools, establish them within a consolidated transfer center and greatly expand their use, first within CUNY and hopefully expand to other systems. and institutions beyond.

In the future Beyond transfer blog posts, ACT team members will dive deeper into the features and applications of Transfer Explorer and other aspects of the project. The ACT team welcomes reader inquiries about the work – we look forward to sharing what we’ve learned and finding ways to collaborate for the benefit of transfer students.

Martin Kurzweil is Director of the Educational Transformation Program at Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit research and advisory group, and ACT Principal Investigator. Since launching the Education Transformation Program in 2015, Martin and his team have conducted mixed-methods research, designed and managed large-scale interventions, and advised higher education leaders, all in pursuit of a mission to improve equitable access and success in post-secondary education.

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