College Transfer Credits

We are making a catalytic impact on the issue of transfer credits by enabling students who transfer between City University of New York (CUNY) colleges to count their previously-earned credits toward degree requirements at their new institution.

Over a third of college students transfer at least once yet, according to a 2018 Government Accountability Office report, approximately 43% of credits earned at a previously-attended institution are lost when students transfer, making transfer students far less likely to graduate. This disproportionately affects low-income students because lost credits often result in their running out of financial aid before they have enough credits in a major study area to graduate—federal (PELL) and New York State (TAP) grants stop after a certain number of years and require that a student make a particular amount of progress towards a degree each year. So, 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. Nationally, 80% (87% at CUNY) of community college freshmen wish to obtain at least a bachelor’s degree but six years later, only 13% (11% at CUNY) have done so.

The loss of transfer credits is a particularly significant issue at CUNY, which well over two-thirds of New York City public school students attend. We retained leading experts in this field to create a pilot aimed at understanding the barriers to credit transfer within the CUNY system. We then supported an innovative collaboration between Ithaka S+R, Hostos Community College and Lehman College to improve credit evaluation and student advising processes and to get better information on course equivalencies into the hands of students and administrators sooner.

Our funding led to a dramatic improvement in share of Hostos to Lehman transfer students who were able to count all of their transfer credits toward their Lehman degrees. This improved from 59% to 68% between Spring 2020 and Spring 2021, a 15 percent increase in the share of students on track to graduate in a shorter period of time. Our support enabled the creation of an innovative digital tool called Transfer Explorer (“T-Rex”) that offers organized, searchable, user-friendly information on how every course in the CUNY catalog transfers across any combination of undergraduate institutions within the CUNY system. Transfer Explorer draws data directly from CUNY’s student information system, is accessible to the public, and is free to use. Users of the Heckscher-sponsored tool can search, browse, and filter results using institutions, words, subjects, or catalog numbers. Students can now look up courses they have taken or are considering and see how those courses would be treated by CUNY institutions to which they might transfer. This is the first time such information has been made available. Since its launch in May 2020, T-Rex has had 35,000 unique users, more than 62,000 sessions, and over 267,000 page views.

The collaborative has decreased the length of time it takes to evaluate transfer credits at Hostos Community College, Bronx Community College, and Lehman College, and significantly reduced the percentage of transfer credits that do not count toward a degree. The median number of days from admission to evaluation at Lehman decreased from 43 in Spring 2020, to 29 in Spring 2021, a 33 percent improvement. Students who transferred from Hostos to Lehman in Spring 2020 had 11% of their first semester courses fall through, while those who transferred in Spring 2021 had only 5% of their first semester courses fall through, a 54 percent improvement. This reduced the number of transfer students ineligible for TAP because of course load issues from 44 to 37, a 16 percent improvement.

Our funding also led other funders to expand the project to four additional CUNY campuses: Brooklyn College, Guttman Community College, Queens College, and Queensborough Community College. We expect that the project will lead to widespread adoption within CUNY.

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