Frequently Asked Questions

Regarding Pathways to Degree Completion at CUNY

Revised, March 14, 2011



What’s wrong with our transfer system as it stands?

  • The curricula of CUNY’s colleges often do not align well. Colleges accept transfer credits inconsistently. Some courses transfer only as electives, which does not always help students because elective credits may not advance them toward their degrees. Further, under the current system, a student who transfers within CUNY with an AA or AS degree will sometimes get credit for the exact same course that a student who is one course short of an AA or AS will not. Moreover, the colleges differ in the number of credits they require for general education and in the ways in which credits are distributed across disciplinary areas. These differences make it hard for students to plan their paths toward their degrees, and to graduate within the number of credits specified for their degrees. 
  • The current system does not support our principle, as an integrated University, of allowing students to move freely within the system according to their needs and interests, subject to the admissions standards of the colleges.


Why can’t we solve transfer problems through creating more articulation agreements or joint degree programs?

  • Articulation agreements and joint degree programs each have their place, but they also have limitations. Articulation agreements are hard to maintain and often become outdated. Joint degree programs (such as those found in the Justice Academy established by John Jay and CUNY’s community colleges) can be very successful.They work best, however, in fields where students identify with a major from the time they start college and especially where majors are predominantly found at one college.They do not work as well in fields that draw students at a later point. CUNY has 700 registered undergraduate degree programs at the different colleges.  It is not feasible to maintain articulation agreements for each of them with every similar program at another college


Why can’t we solve transfer problems by addressing the specific courses that don’t transfer?

  • The issue transcends individual courses. CUNY’s students would benefit from greater curricular clarity and alignment across colleges. It is not only a matter of whether credits are awarded, but in what form. Elective credits do not always help students as they may not have enough flexibility in their programs to use these credits.  
  • CUNY has 23,000 different credit-bearing undergraduate courses.  To ensure on a one-by-one basis that each of these courses transfers appropriately to each of the other colleges is not feasible.
  • Currently, courses transfer if they substantially match courses at the receiving institution.  As CUNY develops and the campuses continue to differentiate, courses are increasingly less likely to match.


When students graduate with excess credits, isn’t that usually due to the students changing their majors, sometimes more than once?

  • There are many reasons that students graduate with excess credits, including changing majors. Nationally and at CUNY, students often change majors as they develop new interests or realize that their skills are not a good match for the demands of their programs. This can be part of a natural process of growth and increased academic awareness. Universities can structure academic requirements to allow for early academic exploration.
  • At CUNY, the costs of changing programs—either through switching majors or changing colleges—can be high. At community colleges, general education requirements are specific to particular degree programs rather than universal across the college. Transfer students often do not receive usable credits (those that can be applied to their degrees) when they change colleges. A common general education framework would maintain flexibility for students who change majors or transfer between colleges.


We get tuition for the excess credits that students take, so why is there a problem with students accumulating them?

  • Tuition covers only about half of the cost of offering each credit.  The other half comes from New York State and New York City.  These entities, and the taxpayers who ultimately supply the funds, do not expect to have to pay for students taking more than 120 credits.
  • Students do not receive financial aid for credits in excess of the number required for their degrees.
  • If students graduate with fewer excess credits, we will be able to admit and accommodate more students within the same physical facilities.


Given that we want our students to be well educated, isn’t taking more than 120 credits good for them?

  • The New York State Education Department, Middle States, all of our other regulatory bodies, and the taxpayers of New York State expect that we will be able to teach our students what they need to know within the forty 3-credit courses (or the equivalent) that they take for their baccalaureate degrees. Of course, we want our students to continue their learning, but those seeking further education would be better served by entering graduate programs than by accumulating credits beyond those required for their baccalaureate degrees.

Shouldn’t each college have its own general education curriculum that all of its students must take?

  • At CUNY, possibly due partly to the geographical proximity of our campuses, a very large proportion of our students transfer.  At every senior college over 50% of the graduates entered that college as a transfer student.  These high transfer rates and patterns make it advisable to create a system-wide framework.


Isn’t the problem one of advising?  If we had better advising wouldn’t students take the correct courses—ones that would transfer?

  • Undoubtedly our advising could be improved.  However, even with greatly improved advising, difficulties would remain.  One reason is that, especially with the increased admission standards of our senior colleges, prospective transfer students cannot be sure which senior college they grant them admission.  Another reason is that some of our colleges’ current requirements are so complex that it can be difficult for even an experienced, skilled advisor to understand them.


Why should we create a general education framework? 

  • Students would benefit from a standard framework that would ensure transfer of general education credits from one CUNY college to another, thus making academic planning easier for students (and advisors), reducing the likelihood of excess credit accumulation, and keeping transfer options open. 
  • Such a framework would also assist our student recruitment efforts; recruiters could tell prospective applicants about a single general education framework whose credits students would carry with them as their needs and interests changed and they moved throughout the system.
  • College Now for-credit courses could be aligned with a CUNY-wide general education framework so that College Now students would be guaranteed credit for their College Now courses at any CUNY college to which they are admitted.
  • The large majority of states have already created a general education framework or core curriculum for the public colleges in that state.  New York State’s legislative leadership has indicated their strong interest in CUNY’s addressing this issue expeditiously (SUNY has already done so).


What size general education do we want at CUNY?

  • States and systems across the country have implemented various models that establish standard general education frameworks generally ranging from 30-42 credits. Some universities have higher-credit general education requirements, but they often allow double-counting of courses, with individual courses meeting requirements in several categories.
  • An important part of the work of the proposed Task Force will be to consider a variety of models and recommend a general education framework of a size that enhances transfer students’ progress, reflects existing general education requirements, and maintains the institutional integrity of the colleges.
  • The New York State Education Department expects general education requirements to comprise 30 credits.


What are the general education models that are being explored?

  • Three models are currently under discussion. In all models, faculty members would choose the general education courses at their colleges. In brief summary, the models are:
  • 36 + 6 Model: All associate and baccalaureate programs would have 36 credits of general education, with courses distributed across disciplinary or interdisciplinary categories in an agreed-upon general education framework. In addition, baccalaureate programs could designate up to 6 college-specific credits for upper- or lower-division courses.
  • 30 + 6 + 6 Model: The general education framework for all associate and baccalaureate programs would consist of courses in specified disciplinary or interdisciplinary areas that would total 30 credits.  Further, each associate and baccalaureate program would add 6 college-specific credits for its general education framework, and baccalaureate programs could add up to an extra 6 credits for upper- or lower-division general education courses.
  • 30 + 12 Model: All associate and baccalaureate programs would have a 30-credit general education framework. In addition, baccalaureate programs would have up to an additional 12 credits to use for additional lower- or upper-division courses.


Why propose models with 30-36 credits of general education for all associate and baccalaureate programs, plus an option of additional credits for baccalaureate programs?

  • 36 credits is the maximum number of credits that can fit within an AA or an AS program while still allowing students to complete their majors. Baccalaureate programs have yet more curricular space for general education.


Given that baccalaureate programs have this extra curricular space, why do two of the models provide only six extra credits of general education for baccalaureate programs?

  • Current board policy permits baccalaureate programs to require up to one course (the number of credits is not specified) of students who transfer in with CUNY AS or AA degrees.  Understanding that a course can confer up to 6 credits, we see 6 credits as the maximum that could be required in the proposed general education framework without imposing more requirements on transfer students than Board policy currently allows. .
  • 12 credits is a typical one-semester full-time course load, leaving only three regular, full-time semesters for transfer students to do their majors and finish within the desired four years of instruction.  Given course sequencing, course prerequisite, and course availability challenges, requiring transfer students to complete 12 additional general education credits would limit their ability to graduate in a timely manner.


Don’t we need general education to be close to 60 credits in order to expose our students to all of the disciplines?  In high school students have little exposure to many fields, such as philosophy, art history, economics, or anthropology.

  • We need to ensure that students achieve certain learning outcomes.  These outcomes can be achieved in a variety of ways.  Communication skills or knowledge of global perspectives, for example, can be achieved in general education but also in majors and electives.


Why can’t all of students’ lower division courses, including at the community colleges, consist of general education?  Why do community college students need to have majors?

  • New York State TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) regulations require both associate and baccalaureate students to declare a major by halfway through their programs in order to continue receiving financial aid.
  • Offering associate degrees with majors is standard nationwide.


Would faculty members still control the curriculum?

The faculty of the CUNY colleges would determine the specifics of the general education framework, would specify its learning outcomes, and would select all courses for the general education framework, including their content.

  • General education framework: Faculty members will constitute the majority of the proposed Task Force that will structure a general education framework for the CUNY colleges.
  • Learning outcomes: The Task Force will engage many faculty members from varied disciplines and interdisciplinary areas in creating learning outcomes for the categories in the general education framework and in working out other aspects of the plan. Faculty members would work with colleagues from around the system.
  • Selection of courses: Faculty members at the colleges will create the courses that will fill the categories of the general education framework. Those courses will be subject to the regular governance approval processes at the colleges.


Isn’t control over the curriculum the right of each college’s faculty, not the CUNY Board of Trustees?

  • The Board of Trustees has the responsibility for establishing guidelines for policy at CUNY. Creating a system-wide general education framework and transfer policy constitutes a broad policy. The faculty retains responsibility for curricular decisions within the general education framework.
  • The applicable Board of Trustees policy states:  “The faculty shall be responsible, subject to guidelines, if any, as established by the board, for the formulation of policy relating to the admission and retention of students including health and scholarship standards therefore, student attendance including leaves of absence, curriculum, awarding of college credit, granting of degrees.” (See http://policy.cuny.edu/text/toc/btb/Article%20VIII/Section%208.6./.)
  • The applicable New York State Education Law states: CUNY has the "responsibility to provide post-secondary education in New York City....The university must remain responsive to the needs of its urban setting and maintain its close articulation between senior and community college units. Where possible, governance and operation of senior and community colleges should be jointly conducted or conducted by similar procedures to maintain the university as an integrated system and to facilitate articulation between units….The board of trustees shall govern and administer the city university. The control of the educational work of the city university shall rest solely in the board of trustees which shall govern and administer all educational units of the city university....The board of trustees...shall organize their faculties, shall approve and administer their courses leading to academic, professional and technical certificates, diplomas and degrees....The board of trustees shall...establish and conduct courses and curricula; prescribe conditions of student admission, attendance and discharge." (See http://tinyurl.com/4v8re3l .)


How would the jobs of faculty members who currently teach general education courses at CUNY colleges be affected by the development of a general education framework?

  • The specifics of the framework would be developed by a Task Force (composed of faculty members, students, and academic administrators) to be established by the Chancellor. The impact of a framework on any particular course can not yet be determined. Colleges would have freedom to fill the general education framework with courses of their own choosing that met the learning outcomes established by the Task Force. In many cases, these might be their existing general education courses. To the extent that this is the case, the teaching responsibilities of faculty members who teach these courses would not change.
  • Colleges will have a substantial period to adjust to any changes that might be required in their course arrangements. The proposed framework would not go into effect for new students until Fall 2013, and students would not be transferring under the new framework until 2014 (it would be at least 2015 for students who had earned associate degrees under the new framework).


Would colleges all have the same general education courses?

  • The framework would establish the broad disciplinary or interdisciplinary areas in which students would fulfill requirements but would not specify individual courses. It would be up to the colleges to identify the courses that would fulfill the requirements of each disciplinary area. 


How will the colleges maintain institutional integrity and distinctiveness as reflected in their general education programs? 

  • Senior colleges, which have more room in their curriculum than community colleges, would have additional credits to develop their own distinctive upper- or lower-division courses.
  • Colleges would also choose their own specific courses for the categories in the general education framework.


How will this process affect general education reform under way? 

  • General education reform is often under way in a large system like CUNY, with its 17 (soon to be 18) undergraduate colleges. The work and thought previously devoted to general education reform would inform and enrich the Task Force’s deliberations. The Task Force would draw upon ideas and proposals worked out during the colleges’ deliberations on their own general education requirements. In addition, individual colleges’ reform efforts would be reflected in their particular choices of courses for the framework (see immediately above).
  • A recent AAC&U survey revealed that 89% of colleges were working on their general education requirements.  General education reform at our colleges, just as at most other colleges, is a continuous process that would go on during, and after, the establishment of a general education framework at CUNY. Further, the framework would be subject to review and revision as colleges gained experience with it.


How would disciplinary committees agree on common entry courses into majors across the CUNY colleges? 

  • Disciplinary committees with representatives from CUNY’s senior, comprehensive, and community colleges would review existing patterns of course-taking in CUNY’s large transfer majors. They would then decide on up to six courses in the major and in cognate fields that would be available to students at the different colleges and would provide a solid initial grounding in the field. The committees would develop their own modes of operation, but would be likely to identify a set of introductory courses across the colleges in a given major and then compare/ contrast sample syllabi for those courses. They could then come to an agreement on entry-level course content.


Does this plan create incentives for students to leave the community colleges prior to earning degrees?

  • It could be argued that a standard framework would do the opposite, that is, that it would encourage community college students to complete as many general education requirements and courses leading into the major as possible at the community college prior to transfer.


Would this plan lower standards at the senior colleges?

  • No. Instead, it would help insure that transfer students were well prepared for entry into baccalaureate colleges. Transfer students would have taken courses that have met CUNY-wide standards in an agreed-upon general education framework, and would have taken entry courses in the major that had been approved by disciplinary committees with faculty members from both the senior and community colleges. According to current board policy, students with CUNY AA and AS degrees who transfer to baccalaureate programs receive credit for all of their general education coursework with no input whatsoever into the content of that coursework from the senior colleges.


How would we deal with problems such as CSI having many 4-credit courses and the other colleges mainly having 3-credit courses?

  • The Task Force would take up this and other similar issues (e.g., whether there should be different general education courses for STEM majors, whether general education courses could also count towards a major, whether a freshman/success seminar should be a required part of the general education framework and how many credits it should receive, whether a student would need to receive a certain minimum grade in a course in order for it to transfer, etc.).


What about AAS degrees? 

  • Many AAS students transfer to baccalaureate programs, even though the AAS was originally intended for students who would enter their careers after receiving their degrees. These students often must take additional general education courses when they transfer. AAS programs should be reviewed as part of the work of the Task Force to consider whether more liberal arts courses could be included and/or whether some of the AAS degree programs could be changed to AS or AA degree programs.


The draft resolution says that the proposed Task Force would develop learning outcomes. What role would learning outcomes play in the process?  How will the process affect general education learning outcomes already defined or being defined by the colleges?

  • The Task Force would articulate desired learning outcomes for the broad disciplinary areas identified; these learning outcomes would serve as the basis for the colleges specifying which courses meet the requirements of each disciplinary area.
  • Just as is the case with the framework itself, learning outcomes would be defined in a way that reflects existing general education requirements at the colleges.   Colleges would develop their own learning outcomes for courses and groups of courses within the general education framework.
  • Institutions and systems across the country have identified general education learning outcomes, many in relation to AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) project—including several CUNY colleges.  There are many models from which to build.


How would students benefit?

  • Students would be able to meet the vast majority of general education requirements at their initial colleges. They would also know exactly what to take for their introductory courses within a major. And finally, a reasonably sized and more clearly specified set of general education courses would lead to greater curricular flexibility, enable students to make full use of elective courses and credits, and provide more students the opportunity to pursue double majors.
  • Students who transfer within CUNY would not need to undergo a lengthy evaluation of their courses, as the sending college could certify the students’ completion of general education requirements (or of specified categories of general education requirements) and also the completion of the agreed-upon initial courses in the major. Currently, the evaluation process can take more than a semester, during which time a student may not be eligible for TAP.
  • Much research has established that the more quickly and efficiently students can progress through the college curriculum the less significant the risk for other life issues to interfere and prevent them from continuing to degree completion.
  • If students could progress through their requirements more efficiently, they would enter the workforce with their degrees sooner, with greater earning potential.


How can I learn more?


How can I make sure that my voice is heard?

  • You can send in your comments about the proposed general education framework by completing the feedback form on the Pathways website:  www.cuny.edu/pathways.