Catalytic Giving

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 half 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 directly to the creation of an innovative digital tool called Transfer Explorer 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.

The collaborative expects to dramatically cut the length of time it takes to evaluate transfer credit at Hostos Community College, Bronx Community College, and Lehman College, 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. We expect that the project will lead to widespread adoption within CUNY.