When (Academic) Credit Is Due

A recent article in the New York Times, highlighted the problems many CUNY students have when tranferring from one college to another. Every year nearly 1,000 students transfer to CCNY from another college, and it is the rare transfer that doesn’t lose credits. City College students take much longer than the standard four years to graduate, and the “credit crisis” is at least partly to blame.

To help, CUNY has instituted the CUNY Pathways Project to create a common core curriculum making it easier to transfer credits between institutions. But not everyone is in favor of the proposal. Some faculty and administration worry that the new initiative will water down the admission and academic standards at CUNY’s 11 senior colleges. 

Here, Augusta Robinson, a CCNY student minoring in journalism, discusses the issue and the debate.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, the City University of New York system’s attempt to change the core curriculum requirements has them, and some student organizations, embroiled in a conflict with some faculty members. The dispute came about as the result of   CUNY’s attempt to make it easier for community college credits to transfer over to their system.

Their goal is to increase graduation rates.

However, the proposal — known as the “Pathways Project” — has faculty at various CUNY schools up in arms. They feel this action would degrade the value of the degrees conferred by the university. Upon hearing about the project, City College students expressed their views passionately.

“I think this is a fantastic idea.  I had a hard time transferring my credits from LaGuardia to City College,” says Sahar Kahn, executive vice president of student affairs.  “They (CUNY) did not accept all of my credits, and I graduated with an associates degree from my old school.  I think my classes there were just as hard as the classes I take at City.  And TIPPS [Transfer Information and Program Planning System] was absolutely no help. I thought we were all supposed to be one big CUNY family.”

TIPPS provides online assistance to students converting credits from one system to the other.  Senior Robert Cabral says TIPPS was no help to him. “I didn’t use TIPPS.  I went to Syracuse and they still didn’t take all of my credits,” says Cabral. “If they don’t offer the class here [at City], they don’t accept the credits.”

Officials argue that TIPPS does work when used properly. “Transfer credits depend on respective programs, types of school, and other factors,” says Mia Diiani of the City College admissions office. ” We have transfer evaluators who assess whether or not the other institutions’ standards meet our criteria.  TIPPS can really help students transition to CUNY.”

Schools recently received a federal “College Completion Tool Kit” with suggestions on how to improve graduation rates.  One measure known as “Making it Easier for Students to Transfer among Colleges,” recommended being sure that curriculums are easily transferrable between two and four year colleges.  CUNY administrators plan on accomplishing their objective by changing the core curriculum — reducing the number of credits needed to satisfy current requirements from an average of 60 to 42.

University executive vice chancellor and orovost Alexandra W. Logue insists that changes in curriculum would not diminish the degree. “42 credits is actually on the high side, nationally,” says Logue. “When you get up to this very high number, approaching 60 credits, there isn’t room to change your major and still graduate on time,” she continues. “And it makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to double-major.”

Not all are in favor of the curriculum changes.  A group of professors and faculty senators recently circulated a list entitled “Top Ten Reasons to Be Concerned about the CUNY Pathways Project” at various CUNY campuses.

“Our position is that all of these real transfer issues are not to be solved by undermining the quality and breadth of general education,” says Sandi Cooper, a professor at the College of Staten Island and chairwoman of the university’s faculty senate. “We have struggled to tighten up requirements and standards, and spent years revising general education. We are trying to defend the quality of the degree.”

The Times interviewed Professor George W. Rainbolt of the University of Georgia who spearheaded a similar program at the University of Georgia, which he says improved graduation rates.  “A convoluted system is trickier for low-income students, who may not have friends and relatives to advise them on the best sequence of courses,” Rainbolt told the Times.  “I think the current lack of a unified system at CUNY really does have a differential impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Some students side with the faculty critics and have opposed the pathways project. Senior Robert Altinay, who transferred from Westchester Community College, says why fix a system that isn’t broken.

“They took 58 of my 60 credits and it was a very smooth, quick, and easy transition.  I never used TIPPS so I don’t know anything about it,” says Altinay. “I don’t want my degree diminished by lowering standards.  I worked hard for this and I want to feel respected when I go on a job interview.  I don’t want the door slammed in my face because a company thinks my degree is not worth the paper it is printed on.”