Equalization of better transfer courses using a universally accessible tool

A community college is often in a dilemma when it comes to awarding a bachelor’s degree with a senior college and discussing the equivalence of the course. Usually this senior college has the ultimate authority: it determines whether the course X will be transferred from the community college as a similar course Y found in the senior college. A transfer tool that publicly reports on transition from multiple colleges to community colleges further facilitates this discussion, as this type of tool can help community colleges identify the most problematic equations and provide valuable evidence for their improvement. At City University of New York’s Bronx Community College, we’ve used a tool called Transfer Explorer over the past year to improve parity for our students with multiple senior colleges in the CUNY system. Transfer Explorer was funded by the Hexar Foundation and was developed as part of the Credit Transfer (ACT) grant initiative, with the participation of BCC.

Context

CUNY includes 20 undergraduate colleges with over 200,000 matriculation students enrolled. These colleges include associate degree institutes (community colleges), bachelor degree institutes (senior colleges) and institutes which offer both types of degrees (extended colleges). The system is characterized by significant student movements within institutions, so much so that most students in all senior colleges typically relocate from CUNY Community College. CUNY has made multiple attempts to address transition barriers and challenges that may impede a student’s ability to complete a bachelor’s degree. Significant progress has been made, particularly with the Pathways initiative, which has improved credit transferability, especially for core courses. The challenges, however, remain, including the equivalence of non-optimal courses in the main course.

These equality challenges can be addressed in a variety of ways, including discussions between a community college and a senior college. In such discussions, a public equivalence tool such as Transfer Explorer can play a key role as it can be used to (1) identify problematic equations that affect most students, (2) compare equities across peer colleges and (3) verify Agreeing to change any equality to do is actually implemented. Below is a description of how this process works and the role played by the CUNY Transfer Equality tool, Transfer Explorer.

Identifying problematic equations

Transfer Explorer has a Frequently Transferred Course (FTC) feature that allows one CUNY college to identify courses that are frequently transferred to another CUNY college. This feature also identifies which course equivalents are offered at the partner college, including whether the equivalents are optional credits only. In general, elective credit is less valuable to a transfer student than the equivalent of a particular course, partly because the former may be less likely to be counted on for graduate requirements. The FTC allows a community college to focus its transfer equality efforts on courses that affect the maximum number of students. After all, if there is a course that has been transferred 5,000 times electively to a particular senior college in the last 10 years, it is more understandable to focus on that equivalence than a course that has been transferred only 20 times. We’ve done this at BCC over the past year, focusing on the equivalence of several high-volume problematic courses, ultimately improving them.

Discuss equality using equivalence comparisons

After identifying the equivalence of the main course and the senior college that needs to be focused on, the next step is to engage with the stakeholders in this senior college (referred to below as the Senior College Partner). Transfer Explorer is invaluable in this discussion, especially in terms of its ability to provide data equivalent to courses across universities. This feature in Transfer Explorer describes how this course transfers (HDCT), and the data it provides can be effective in working with senior college partners. HDCT lets one see how the course is transferred to all colleges in X CUNY. This feature can be used in two ways to support a community college’s argument for the equivalence of a modified course:

  • Scenario A: Other CUNY senior colleges use HDCT to see how our course X transfers. If many / most of these senior colleges transfer our course X to the corresponding senior college course Y, then this is an argument for equality. That is, we might ask a senior college partner, “Why is your college and your course so different from your peers that you wouldn’t give credit to our course?”
  • Scenario B: This involves using HDCT to see if there is a course like our course X at Peer Community College, and if so, to see how this course is transferred to a senior college partner. If a similar peer community college course is transferred to a senior college partner as a specific course Y, then we have another argument for equality. That is, we might ask a senior college partner, “If you’re going to give credit for that course from our peer community college, why don’t you do it for the same course from our college?”

The BCC has used both approaches with CUNY’s senior colleges over the past year, improving course parity for our graduates. Parity is a strong argument, in part because it appeals to a sense of fairness and justice on the part of a senior college partner. In addition, the nature of the data publicity in parity reasoning and transfer explorers indirectly creates other forms of stress due to further action by community colleges. Community colleges, for example, may be able to put enrollment pressure on senior colleges by advising them to consider transferring students to other senior colleges in order to get better transfer credit. The community college may also choose to involve other stakeholders to more publicly object to the equality of existing courses. Of course, these steps should not be taken lightly for a number of reasons, among which they may damage the relationship with the senior college. But these potential steps can play a role without being taken into account, as they exist only as an alternative due to the universally accessible equations found in Transfer Explorer.

It is important to mention here that senior college partners often have a good explanation for why a given course is not transferred directly to parity. For example, senior college courses and community college courses may cover slightly different topics. To address this, an actual discussion involving faculties of both community colleges and senior colleges is often important, as it allows for a better understanding of each perspective and builds relationships between institutions. This discussion could lead to improved curriculum alignment, as both senior and community colleges may review their courses and syllabus to identify any gaps that may require course revision. These amendments may be sufficient to improve the transition to senior college transfers.

Verifying parity changes

Once an agreement has been reached to change a transfer equation, the next challenge is to ensure that this change is implemented. As someone who has worked in this field for over 20 years, I am well aware that this should not be allowed. I have seen many cases where certain equality was agreed upon in paper, pdf or email but in practice it was never made. Transfer Explorer lets any user see when a course’s standard parity has changed and when it has changed.

The latest thought

The transfer equivalence tool, such as Transfer Explorer, does not perfectly level the playing field between community colleges and senior colleges when discussing transfer parity, but it does help. It empowers community colleges to identify and prioritize problematic transfer equations, empowers community colleges to sue for specific course equivalents, and helps ensure that compromise equations are implemented. By strengthening the discussion position of community colleges, the benefits of transfer students: Improved transfer equality makes these students more likely to achieve their bachelor’s degree and in less time.


Alexander Ott is Dean of Curriculum and Academic Programs at Bronx Community College, City University, New York. He has led the Bronx Transfer Affinity Group and is a former president of the New York State Transfer and Articulation Association.

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