Regular readers of this blog, and of the transfer literature in general, are now very familiar with the leaked vertical transfer pipeline: the fact that about 80 percent of associate degree students want to get at least a bachelor’s degree, but six years after college, about 11 percent have done so. These leaks affect students in an inconsistently presented group যে students who make it through the pipeline are more likely to get worse and have more financial resources. Also the most common explanation for this leak known to transfer researchers and practitioners: credit loss. The United States Government Accountability Office often cites 43 percent of credit loss as a result of credit transfers, and credit loss has been cited as one of the main reasons why students are less likely to start community colleges with the goal of graduating. Students who start college in a bachelor’s program are more likely to achieve that goal.
But what does it mean to “lose” credit, and what do we actually know about student credit as students progress through their graduation journey? In our work we have seen that while the need for a transfer degree seriously damages the applicability of credits, this loss is not as pervasive or as severe as is sometimes thought.
At City University in New York, where there are 20 graduate colleges and about 25,000 new transfer students each year, we are conducting multiple projects to help identify, understand and reduce transfer pipeline leak features. These are the Top (Transfer Opportunity Project), Growth (Growing Transfer in the Humanity) and ACT (Articles of Credit Transfer) projects, described in a previous blog post and collectively known as A2B, from associate-to-bachelor-degree. TOP and GROWTH are research projects, and ACT helps transfer students directly. Repeatedly in our projects, consistent with past research, credit transfer has been shown to be a major difficulty for students.
Our work at TOP, which involves investigating the cause of a pipeline leak, has helped us understand that we need to investigate two aspects of lost credits. First, research literature now concerns, not just lost credit, but Degree-Applicable Credits There are, of course, situations where credits are not with a student when a student moves from one college to another (although not within CUNY, where all credits are transferred at least as optional credits). However, there are some situations where the credits are with the student, but they do not apply to any degree requirements in the new college and thus become extra elective – basically a waste of time and money. Thus, we understand at the top that any work we are doing with lost credit must look at the degree applicability of the credits, whether or not the credits were with the students at the time of transfer.
A second perception in the case of the lost credit investigation came from an ACT member who worked directly with the transfer students (Christopher Bunokor, director of the Lehman College Student Success Initiative). Chris continues to tell us that the degree applicability of credits to vertical transfers can change repeatedly throughout a student’s academic career. For example, most CUNY associate degrees have a maximum of 60 credits, including room for very few electives. But a CUNY bachelor’s degree usually has a maximum of 120 credits so there is room for many more electives. So it is possible for students to have additional electives in a community college that does not apply to any of their associate degree requirements, but when these students transfer to a graduate program, some or all of the additional electives may now apply to students’ bachelor’s degrees. As another example, students can change their major or add or subtract minors, and change actions such that certain credits do not apply or apply to student degree requirements.
With our goal of studying leaks in the academic pipeline for vertical transfer students, we needed to know what all of this meant for us at TOP, especially what happens with the degree applicability of credits at the time of transfer. In order to obtain this information, one factor helps us and one prevents us. The reason we help is because the software used by CUNY students for academic records and degree audits (degree works) shows which credits are applicable for degree requirements and which are not. The reason we stopped was because Degree Works is a transactional database, which means that every time a student’s record changes, that change overwrites what was there before. This Degree Works feature means that, in general, what we see is the current state of student credits নেই no history, no way to see what happened when a student moved. Credit that does not currently apply to degree requirements (which we call To fail Credit) could have been received that way because of the transfer, or they could have received it that way at a community college or bachelor’s college as a result of a major change.
But since TOP and ACT are under the same A2B umbrella, we knew at the top that the ACT project saves changes in students ’degree work records every day. The ACT was doing this in order to allow advisors to intervene when newly transferred students were enrolled in their new college for courses that did not apply to their degree requirements. However, we realized at the top that this archive could allow our analysts to identify student records just before and right after the vertical transfer, and using that data, accurately see what happened to student credits due to the transfer.
Thus, using an ACT archive of about 900 students who have moved from the Bronx and Hosts Community College to Lehman College over the past few years (two of CUNY’s most friendly vertical transfer routes), TOP was able to see it then, for this group of students,
- Just as Chris told us, among the fruitful credits of these students at their community college, 83 percent of the students applied for the degree after it was transferred.
- In contrast, of these students, among the degree-applicable credits at their community college, 5 percent became fall-through credits immediately after the transfer.
- Also among these students Current Fallthrough Credit for Community College Courses, only 46 percent of these credits applied for degree requirements just before the transfer and then changed to Fallthrough due to the transfer. The rest of the current Fallthrough credits to the Community College course will find their way to Fallthrough through other avenues (e.g., by students who have taken Fallthrough courses before transfer that remain in Fallthrough after transfer).
With the help of TOP, ACT, it has been shown that if a researcher looked at all the current credits, how many current credits a transfer student has that came from the student’s previous college and which does not apply to the current degree requirements, such data can be very inaccurate. To determine the effect of transfer. We also now know that, although the problem of “lost credit” is serious, it may not be as big or broad as some people think.
The next step with this archive information? By digging deeper, researchers can see which courses, majors and colleges may be associated with fallthrough credits at specific points in the vertical transfer pipeline (see here, for example).
In addition to telling us about what is actually happening with the lost credit of vertical transfer students, this work has provided two important lessons to A2B projects. First, there may be coordination between different types of transfer projects (in this case TOP and ACT) – research and application projects can stimulate and support each other. Second, in an effort to solve complex, real-world problems, actively involving different people who have direct experience with those problems, can help research projects reach successful conclusions.
We are extremely grateful to the dozens of people who have contributed to the improvement of the A2B project, the students who have moved everywhere.
Alexandra W. Log is a research professor at the Center for Advanced Study in Education, Graduate Center, CUNY, and the chief or co-principal investigator of each A2B project. From 2008 to 2014 he was executive vice chancellor of the CUNY system and provost of the university. Nayeon Yoo is a research analyst at CUNY’s Office of Applied Research, Evaluation and Data Analytics (OAREDA). Kerstin Gentsch is a senior policy analyst at OAREDA. Colin Chelman, a dean at CUNY University, heads OAREDA, a co-chief investigator at TOP, and president-elect of the Association for Education Finance and Policy.