How can we help public college students keep their credits when they transfer schools?


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. Economically disadvantaged students suffer disproportionately; lost credits often result in students running out of financial aid before they have enough credits in a major area of study to graduate.

We have addressed barriers to credit transfer by focusing on the CUNY system, since well over half of New York City public school students attend one of its schools. What we found was deeply disturbing. CUNY does not currently have systems or records to determine the number of credits earned at one of its institutions which are then lost when students transfer to another of its institutions. What we know, however, is that enormous numbers of poor students are suffering credit transfer loss even when they transfer within the system. This has a direct impact on college graduation rates because federal (PELL) and New York State (TAP) grants stop after a certain number of years and require that a student make a certain amount of progress towards a degree each year. 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.

In 2019, we supported an innovative project in collaboration with Hostos Community College, Lehman College, and the CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, supervised by Ithaka S+R. The project team is working to improve credit evaluation and student advising processes and to get better information on course equivalencies into the hands of students and administrators sooner. The goals are to dramatically cut the time it takes to evaluate transfer credits, 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 between these two colleges. If the project is successful, it will provide a road map to expand it to other campuses.

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