This post is the second in a series of blog posts on the articulation of credit transfer and digs deeper into the functionalities and applications of Transfer Explorer.
Nationwide, 80 percent of community college students express a desire to obtain a bachelor’s degree, but a mere 14 percent end up achieving that goal in six years. There are many factors that contribute to this leaky transfer pipeline and low transfer success rate. Among them are those that hinder the transfer process itself: administrative and bureaucratic hurdles, a lack of complete and correct information on college websites, and insufficient (or nonexistent) advising support. Even when credits do transfer, they are not always accepted toward a student’s program or degree requirements, threatening their chances of earning a degree and increasing the time to completion. Students are unable to accurately prepare for their transfer journey, often resulting in more time, money and effort spent trying to get credits accepted at a new institution. The Government Accountability Office reports that an estimated 43 percent of credits are wasted nationally during transfer, disproportionately hurting minority, lower-income and first-generation students.
There is an urgent need to invest in innovative practices and leverage AI-powered tools to address the many challenges transfer students face. The Articulation of Credit Transfer Project (ACT), a collaboration between Ithaka S+R and seven of the 20 community and baccalaureate colleges at the City University of New York, and funded by the Heckscher and Petrie Foundations, aims to improve the information, advising and administrative processes involved in the transfer process. (ACT is a member of the A2B—associate to bachelor’s—transfer projects.)
According to CUNY’s Office of Applied Research, Evaluation and Data Analytics, CUNY admits about 24,000 transfer students each year, of which approximately one-third consists of CUNY vertical-transfer students (students transferring from CUNY associate to bachelor’s programs), and another one-third consists of transfers from outside CUNY. These numbers demonstrate the importance of CUNY having accurate, transparent and reliable transfer information. Before the ACT project, it was challenging for students and advisers to understand how credits transferred across CUNY. This shortage of information could impede the ability of vertical-transfer students reaching their higher education goals. Given that CUNY community colleges tend to overwhelmingly serve students from minority and underrepresented communities, the inability to retrieve accurate information about transfer processes and policies has posed an undue hardship for students who are already more likely to experience setbacks to completing their degree and to have limited financial resources. These factors can make it less likely that students from these groups end up transferring at all.
Introducing Transfer Explorer
The ACT project includes multiple workstreams, but among its most innovative and impactful project to date is Transfer Explorer, or T-Rex, as it is commonly referred to, which has been designed for all of CUNY (not just the seven ACT colleges). T-Rex aims to solve a myriad of issues with transfer, which can be categorized into three areas:
- Provide clear transfer information: T-Rex displays organized, searchable and user-friendly information on how every course in the CUNY catalog transfers and applies across all CUNY undergraduate institutions.
- Promote transparency: Prior to T-Rex, there was very limited information about course transfer policies and course equivalencies. Students are now empowered to make the right decisions based on information that updates daily—a single source of transfer truth. Research surrounding online access to transfer pathways information on CUNY and other colleges’ websites shows how complex policies and deficient information can stymie students’ future plans and add to their confusion and frustration as they navigate the transfer process. Advisers also have a difficult time navigating websites to retrieve transfer-related information, stating that the opaqueness of the websites makes the task of finding information complex and time consuming. Now everyone can see when one of CUNY’s 1.4 million course credit transfer rules appears to have been programmed incorrectly or illogically or to the disadvantage of students. T-Rex has shown how useful it can be for there to be accurate, public information about transfer policies and processes.
- Facilitate ongoing communication and review: The ACT team has also developed a workflow (requiring login) for T-Rex that allows faculty to suggest and validate equivalencies. This workflow includes multiple levels of configurable approvals (if needed), accommodates the uploading of documents (such as syllabi) and has a chat feature where faculty can communicate about a particular credit transfer case.
Though technology is not the sole solution to solving the leaky transfer pipeline, it can alleviate some of the structural roadblocks to student success. T-Rex’s novel approach of leveraging CUNY’s centralized software systems to show everyone how courses are transferring or will transfer, allowing even high school students to map out their transfer journey, has the potential to alter the landscape of how and where students go to retrieve information on transfer processes and policies.
The numbers speak to the widespread need for this information—since tracking began in May 2020, over 47,000 unique users have accessed the T-Rex site. Anyone can view, review, share and explore the 1.4 million course equivalencies across CUNY, and tens of thousands of people have been making use of that opportunity.
What Can T-Rex Do for You?
The transfer process involves multiple stakeholders. T-Rex opens doors to plan, explore and drive improvement for individuals at each touchpoint of the transfer journey.
- Students can use T-Rex’s View Course Equivalencies and How Does This Course Transfer to plan course taking. A forthcoming function will allow anyone to see actual program requirements across the University as scribed in CUNY’s degree audit system (Degree Works), to determine which transfer courses satisfy program requirements.
- Faculty can review how a course they are teaching will be treated across CUNY and start conversations with other faculty members to better align coursework where needed. The ACT team is working on employing a login process into the system using a password-protected account to facilitate this work more seamlessly.
- Advisers are now empowered to give clear and accurate information about how a course will transfer at the sending and receiving institutions. T-Rex’s bookmarking feature allows for the easy sharing and sending of course equivalency information.
- Administrators can view the frequency of courses that actually transferred to and from each college, across all departments through T-Rex’s newest feature, Frequently Transferred Courses. This information can be extremely valuable for enrollment management and course scheduling, as well as for prioritizing course equivalency reviews.
- Using T-Rex, colleges and programs can now show prospective transfer students, from the beginning of their postsecondary careers, what they need to do to achieve successful transfer admission. For example, utilizing T-Rex’s underlying technology, the Zicklin School of Business at CUNY’s Baruch College worked with ACT’s developers to create the Zicklin Transfer Explorer. This online tool tells students wishing to transfer into Baruch and Zicklin which courses these students need to take at their original institutions for admission. Given Zicklin’s success, there is growing interest across other CUNY colleges to replicate the model for their own selective programs.
- Using T-Rex, high school students, K-12 counselors and CBO partners can now plan students’ higher education journeys prior to the students’ graduation from high school. Soon, T-Rex will even show how specific dual-enrollment high school courses satisfy college program degree requirements.
T-Rex has immense power and potential to extend beyond just within-CUNY transfer. Every year, many thousands of students transfer to and from SUNY and CUNY or to and from New York private colleges and CUNY. Thus, simply increasing the intelligence of T-Rex through incorporation of these institutions’ course equivalencies would be impactful. Further expanding the tool’s reach beyond New York State could make T-Rex a national one-stop shop for transfer, including for the more than 25 percent of students who transfer across state lines, removing the need for these students to peruse multiple states’ websites to find accurate information.
We are encouraged by T-Rex’s impact thus far on easing these transfer burdens and on the many impacts that it can have across a campus. Eliminating transfer credit policy discrepancies and enabling accuracy, ease of access and transparency are critical to ensuring transfer student populations are not left behind. Pathways to careers should not be closed off solely due to solvable administrative challenges. Knowing that these issues disproportionately impact underserved groups only adds to the urgency in addressing these challenges.
Pooja Vora is an analyst on Ithaka S+R’s educational transformation team. She contributes to Ithaka S+R’s work on transfer of credit issues and research around stranded credits. Prior to joining Ithaka S+R, she worked as a paralegal in tax law, where she supported clients with individual tax issues. She has also worked in immigration law helping foreign individuals obtain immigrant and nonimmigrant visas and patent law assisting clients in obtaining patent approvals. Pooja holds a master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree in political science and public relations from Temple University. Chris Buonocore is the director of student success initiatives at Lehman College, City University of New York. Chris is responsible for coordinating advising efforts across campus, including leading the implementation of EAB Navigate. He is an expert in Peoplesoft and Degree Works data and strategy, especially as it relates to working with transfer students. Chris also serves on the ACT grant project management team and coordinates development and training for Transfer Explorer.