Although over 87 percent of new community college students at the City University of New York (CUNY) intend to transfer and complete at least a bachelor’s degree, only 11 percent do so within six years. Whether and how a student’s credits articulate during transfer can have significant consequences for these students’ educational trajectory.  Students who transfer most or all of their credits are 2.5 times more likely to graduate compared to those who transfer fewer than half of their credits. Yet, according to a 2018 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, approximately 43 percent of credits earned at a previously attended institution are lost when students transfer to a new college or university.

CUNY has a robust system leadership structure for its 19 undergraduate campuses. Despite this, students who transfer from one CUNY college to another college within the system face significant inefficiencies in the articulation of credit. For example, approximately a third of the 2,200 students who transferred into CUNY’s Lehman College in 2015-16 had at least some course credits that did not apply to any degree requirements.  

We are pleased to announce that with support from the Heckscher Foundation for Children, Ithaka S+R is collaborating with Hostos Community College, Lehman College, the CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, and the Pardos Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley on an innovative, year-long project to improve credit evaluation and student advising processes, and get better information on course equivalencies into the hands of students and administrators sooner. As a result of the project work, we expect to dramatically cut the length of time it takes to evaluate transfer credit at Hostos and Lehman, significantly reduce the percentage of transfer credits that do not count toward a degree, and virtually eliminate credit evaluation decisions that go against policy, all of which will lead to a higher degree completion rate for transfer students between the two colleges.

The project has two main workstreams. The first will be a systematic and iterative investigation and improvement of the processes for evaluating transfer credit at Hostos and Lehman, as well as improving the information and advising provided to students transferring between the two institutions. Building on existing pilot projects and deep relationships among administrators and faculty across the two colleges, the project team will test and scale up a variety of changes, including upgraded workflow tools, that will capture better information about credit articulation to better understand the process, that will change the way student transcripts are loaded to the student information system, and that will provide more nuanced information on credit articulation to students and transfer advisors before students matriculate. 

The second workstream will focus on improving the quality of information on credit articulation across CUNY, and applying that new information at Hostos and Lehman. Leveraging prior research, the Pardos Lab will train a machine learning algorithm to predict course equivalency using CUNY’s historical transfer records, course catalogs, and other information. After review by faculty and administrators, the results of these analyses may be used in a variety of ways to streamline the credit evaluation process, including establishing default determinations, identifying misapplication of policy, and highlighting effective and ineffective transfer pathways.  

We will be documenting our work and tracking our progress throughout the project, to ensure that our findings will be of use beyond the duration and scope of this project. 

While we are just beginning our work, the whole project team is excited by its potential. The planned activities are groundbreaking for CUNY and extremely rare within higher education, more generally. If they are effective, this project’s activities may significantly mitigate one of the greatest barriers to student success for our increasingly mobile postsecondary student population, positively impacting thousands of future students.