Catalytic Giving

College Transfer Credits

Over a third of college students transfer at least once yet, according to a 2018 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, approximately 43% of credits earned at a previously attended institution are lost when students transfer. Economically disadvantaged students suffer disproportionately; lost credits often result in students running out of financial aid before they have enough credits in a major study area to graduate.

We have addressed barriers to credit transfer by focusing on the City University of New York (CUNY) system, since well over half of New York City public school students attend CUNY. What we found was deeply disturbing. CUNY does not currently have systems or records to determine the number of credits earned at one CUNY institution which are then lost when students transfer to another CUNY institution. What we know, however, is that enormous numbers of poor students are suffering credit transfer loss even when they transfer from one CUNY college to another. This has a direct impact on college graduation because federal (PELL) and New York State (TAP) grants stop after a certain number of years and require that a student make a certain amount of progress towards a degree each year. If a student does not receive full credit for two years of college upon transfer, he/she has, in effect, “wasted” essential federal and state financial aid and is likely to run out of aid before reaching graduation.

We have sought to promote catalytic change by creating an innovative project in collaboration with Hostos Community College, Lehman College, and the CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA), supervised by Ithaka S+R. The project team is working to improve credit evaluation and student advising processes and to get better information on course equivalencies into the hands of students and administrators sooner. The goals of the project are to dramatically cut the length of time it takes to evaluate transfer credits, 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.