Published on 2017/10/23

The Growing Discussion in Higher Education of Transfer and Curricular Control

The EvoLLLution | The Growing Discussion in Higher Education of Transfer and Curricular Control
Who has control and “veto power” over curriculum are topics often brought into conversations around institutional programming quality and, by extension, the acceptance of transfer credit. However, when faculty have this control and veto power it can create incredibly complex and challenging transfer processes for students trying to pursue their postsecondary credentials.

The following is excerpted from Pathways to Reform: Credits and Conflict at the City University of New York by Alexandra W. Logue (2017) and is reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.

It would be impossible to describe in detail here even some of the recent research studies concerning the difficulty that students have in transferring their credits,3 not to mention all of the national organizations that have called for such problems to be addressed. Just a sampling of the organizations currently emphasizing the importance of ensuring that students can transfer their credits includes the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Council on Education, the AAC&U [Association of American Colleges & Universities], Complete College America, the Charles A. Dana Center, Public Agenda, and the Aspen Institute, among others. The Association of Governing Boards has listed credit transfer as one of the essential responsibilities of higher education board members.4 The National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students was founded in 2002 and has grown and developed steadily every year, and in 2012 the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education first established its standards concerning “Transfer Student Programs and Services.”5 Improving credit transfer is now widely perceived as an important mechanism for increasing graduation rates and decreasing students’ higher education costs.

One major report released in August of 2014 by the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Center for Education Statistics found that 35 percent of students transfer within six years of beginning college.6  The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found in a 2015 report that 37 percent of students transfer within six years of beginning college, and in a 2017 report that 49 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients have prior credits from community colleges (the report didn’t cover prior credits from bachelor’s-degree colleges).7 Still another major report on transfer released in January 2016,8 authored by Davis Jenkins and John Fink (both researchers at the Community College Research Center, which is housed at Teachers College, Columbia University), called for better data collection concerning transfer students, and urged better usage of policies to ensure that students from lower-income backgrounds are able to transfer their credits as effectively as students from higher-income backgrounds. This report was followed a few months later by the Aspen Institute’s and the Community College Research Center’s publication of The Transfer Playbook: Essential Practices for Two- and Four-Year Colleges. 9

Several factors have undoubtedly contributed to the intensifying attention paid to the difficulties facing transfer students. These include former President Obama’s national priority for increasing graduation rates,10 the growing emphasis on community colleges as an affordable way to start college (and from which students must transfer in order to receive their bachelor’s degrees),11 and an increasing focus on how the cost of college may prevent students from finishing (loss of credits when a student transfers can increase the cost).12 The many articles on transfer have detailed what it is about transfer that makes it hard (complex processes, unclear policies, inadequate guidance, delays in transcript evaluation, credits transferring as electives when the courses were taken to satisfy general education or major requirements, decreased motivation when credits are lost, additional costs for students, etc.).13 The ability to transfer both general education and initial major courses has been described as essential.14 There have been detailed expositions about why articulation agreements, which are generally between pairs of institutions, if they exist at all, won’t work for the many students who cannot be sure several semesters ahead of time to which institution they will be transferring.15

Another factor promoting the increased focus on transfer has been, perhaps surprisingly, the increased attention being paid to remedial education. Nationally 60 percent of students enter college having been assessed as not yet prepared for college-level work, and most students either avoid taking their assigned remedial classes or take them and fail them. Some remedial reforms, usually undertaken in community colleges, have been shown to be effective in helping students over these barriers, but there have been subsequent difficulties for such students in transferring their credits and/or their new status as remediation-exempt to bachelor’s-degree colleges.16

There has now been rigorous national research investigating precisely what happens when students transfer, and the results are clear: they lose credits and those losses delay, or even prevent, graduation. An excellent example of this work is a 2015 publication, in the highly regarded journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, by David B. Monaghan, former CUNY PhD student and now a senior researcher at the Wisconsin HOPE Lab at the University of Wisconsin, and Paul Attewell, CUNY distinguished professor, who has appeared several times in this book as a Pathways supporter. Monaghan and Attewell used a national data set to investigate the well-known fact that transfer students from a community college, as compared to students who begin college in a bachelor’s program, have a lower probability of completing a bachelor’s degree. Monaghan and Attewell found that “inferior academic preparation does not seem to be the main culprit.” Instead, “one important mechanism is the widespread loss of credits that occurs after undergraduates transfer from a community college to a 4-year institution; the greater the loss, the lower the chances of completing a BA.”17

Additional publications have discussed the reasons behind credit loss upon transfer. Echoing much of the material in this book, some articles have stated that the incentive structures in place do not favor credit transfer, have expressed concern about the apparent conflicts of interest inherent in faculty judgments of whether credit should transfer, and have pointed to the impossibility of community colleges solving the transfer credit problems on their own (not only is it the case that many transfer students do not originate at community colleges, but one reason why credits do not transfer is that the receiving colleges sometimes change their requirements).18

Other areas of recent focus within higher education have implications for CUNY’s and other colleges’ and universities’ work on credit transfer. For example, there is increasing acceptance that many college students, including those who are low-income and/or the first in their families to attend college, will be assisted on their way to graduation if they have what are referred to as “Guided Pathways”—in other words, if they have limited choice in terms of which courses to take19 (a good example of the many uses to which the word “Pathways” is being put in addition to CUNY’s Pathways Project; for others see my website, http://www.awlogue.com). However, the college years are also recognized as a period in which students should have the opportunity to grow by means of their own explorations. The general education portions of CUNY’s Pathways policies can do both in that it is clear that students need to satisfy all of the Pathways general education categories, but at most CUNY colleges students have choices as to which courses to take within each of those categories.

An understanding of CUNY’s Pathways Project is also informed by, and informs, the ongoing struggles in higher education regarding who controls curriculum. Recent controversies over who does or should control higher education curriculum have made the press for colleges and universities in California, Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Virginia.20 In some of these situations, the faculty either have formally had, or have effectively gained, veto power over the curriculum. In others, such as at CUNY, faculty have not had, and still do not have, such power. Evoking a particular sense of déjà vu was an Inside Higher Ed 2016 report of a vote of no confidence in the vice president of Concord University in response to a decrease in the number of general education credits.21

In some cases, state law gives independent authority over curriculum to faculty, whereas in others it does not but the faculty have nevertheless obtained such authority. An example of the former concerns Illinois. Statutes regarding the University of Illinois state: “Each [faculty] senate shall determine for its campus matters of educational policy. … No new line of work involving questions of general educational policy shall be established on any campus except upon approval of the senate concerned.”22 In other words, in Illinois, the faculty apparently have veto power over all academic matters. However, despite this legislation, other recent legislation in Illinois gives transfer students (limited) guarantees in terms of credit transfer.23

The EvoLLLution | The Growing Discussion in Higher Education of Transfer and Curricular Control
It’s critical to simplify transfer processes and better-organize information to expand access to advanced postsecondary education for traditionally underserved students.

A well-publicized case regarding who controls curriculum concerns what happened in the past few years at San Jose State University in California. The president wanted the philosophy department to use a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) as part of one of its courses, and the department refused. Subsequently, the president agreed that the relevant academic department would need to approve any outside contract for any sort of technology-intensive, hybrid, or online course. The following year the president left the university for a position in Afghanistan.24

In another highly publicized case, in 2015 Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin led an initiative that resulted in changes in the Wisconsin law that essentially removed final decision-making authority regarding curriculum from the public university faculty.25

Still another example concerns the California Community Colleges System, which consists of 112 community colleges with more than two million students and 72 different boards of trustees. For many of these community colleges, agreement by the faculty senates is required for many decisions, essentially giving faculty veto power over curriculum. An organization called California Competes has asked the head of the California Community Colleges System to change that structure, using, in part, the rationale that giving faculty final decision-making authority results in dysfunctional governance. California Competes’ goal is to have final decision making in the hands of the trustees (as is the case at CUNY).26

In the University of California system, the independent authority of the faculty has been causing difficulties with students transferring. When one college in the system creates an online course, that course can be taken for credit at any of the colleges in that system. However, each separate academic department has the power to approve whether such a course counts for that department’s major.27

Back on the East Coast, in an ongoing battle in Connecticut over online courses and other plans for the state system of colleges and universities, it has been reported that “administrators agreed that the faculty should have control over curricular moves, including questions of which programs should move online.”28 There have been similar struggles in Minnesota.29

In contrast, Delta College in Michigan first engaged in a trial period in which its introductory writing course was taught with 4 class hours instead of 3. The president subsequently said that there was no evidence that students learned more as a result, and so he decided to remove the fourth hour except for students who needed additional help. The faculty complained about this, but the board backed the president.30

An older example of curriculum-related changes initiated by administration, not faculty, consists of the transfer policies effected by the University System of Georgia, repeatedly referred to in this book, and a model for Pathways. Transfer policy changes in Georgia were facilitated by the fact that the Georgia system, similar to CUNY’s, has a single governing board with complete authority over all educational matters: “The government, control, and management of the University System of Georgia and each of its institutions are vested by the people of Georgia exclusively with the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.”31

Despite national struggles over who controls the higher education curriculum, 2016 data indicate that 72 percent of states now have a core of entry-level courses that transfers statewide among all public institutions (New York is not one of these states),32 and many other university systems now also have such cores (similar to CUNY’s Pathways Common Core). Yet it is still the case that numerous states, as in the California example above, and also in Texas,33 are still undergoing struggles with regard to credit transfer despite having these transferable cores. Therefore one question in the literature has been this: Are the policies, designed to facilitate credit transfer, working? There is circumstantial evidence indicating that Georgia’s is. The graduation rate at the University System of Georgia increased over 10 percent between 1999 and 2006,34 and it was in fall 1998 that their new transfer policies were put into effect. But, of course, that is not proof that Georgia’s transfer policies were responsible for the increased graduation rates. In California, despite significant efforts by legislators, by the California community college and state university systems, as well as by the private organization The Campaign for College Opportunity, the great majority of students still do not have seamless transfer between these two systems.35

In general, publications about the success of these statewide and systemwide policies seem to be more focused on how these policies are not functioning, or on the lack of evidence as to whether they are effective, than on presenting data showing whether or not they are effective. In addition, these publications point out that there are many ways for colleges and universities to work around the intent of the new policies, as summarized by this quotation attributed to CUNY’s Distinguished Professor Paul Attewell: “You can drive a truck through the loopholes.”36 As described earlier in this book, it was certainly the experience of those of us in CUNY’s central Office of Academic Affairs that the CUNY colleges had found ways to avoid the intent of the CUNY Board of Trustees transfer policies that existed prior to Pathways. It was because of this knowledge that we devoted much effort to trying to make the board resolution establishing Pathways loophole free.

Excerpted from Pathways to Reform: Credits and Conflict at the City University of New York by Alexandra W. Logue. Copyright © 2017 by Alexandra W. Logue. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.

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References

3. For reviews of some of the relevant research, see:

Bailey, T. R., Jaggars, S. S., & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges: A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Handel, S. J., & Strempel, E. (2016). Transition and transformation: Fostering transfer student success. Dahlonega, GA: National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students and University of North Georgia Press.

Jenkins, D., Kadlec, A., & Votruba, J. (2014, July). The business case for regional public universities to strengthen community college transfer pathways (with guidance on leading the process). HCM Strategists. Retrieved from HCM Strategists website: http://hcmstrategists.com/maximizingresources/images/Transfer_Pathways_Paper.pdf

4. AGB Editor. (2016, February 25). 5 principles for college completion. AGB Blog. Retrieved from http://agb.org/blog/2016/02/25/5-principles-for-college-completion

5. The National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students (n.d.). Retrieved from https://transferinstitute.org/

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (2014). Transfer student programs and services. Retrieved from http://standards.cas.edu/getpdf.cfm?PDF=1C93DD47-0676-FCF1-0903338D7B2FCE15

6. Simone, S. A. (August 2014). Transferability of postsecondary credit following student transfer or coenrollment: Statistical analysis report. US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, NCES 2014-163. Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics website: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014163.pdf

7. National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. (2017, March 29). Snapshot report: 49 percent of 2015-16 bachelor’s degree earners previously enrolled at two-year public institutions.  Retrieved from https://nscblog.org/2017/03/49-percent-of-2015-16-bachelors-degree-earners-previously-enrolled-at-two-year-public-institutions/

Shapiro, D., Dundar, A., Wakhungu, P. K., Yuan, X., & Harrell, A. (2015, July). Transfer and mobility: A national view of student movement in postsecondary institutions, fall 2008 cohort (Signature Report No. 9). Herndon, VA: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Retrieved from National Student Clearinghouse Research Center website: https://nscresearchcenter.org/signaturereport9/

Jenkins, D., & Fink, J. (2015). What we know about transfer. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center. Retrieved from Community College Research Center website: https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/media/k2/attachments/what-we-know-about-transfer.pdf

8. Wyner, J., Deane, KC, Jenkins, D., & Fink, J. (2016, May). The transfer playbook: Essential practices for two- and four-year colleges. The Aspen Institute and the Community College Research Center. Retrieved from the Community College Research Center website: http://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/media/k2/attachments/transfer-playbook-essential-practices.pdf

9. Stratford, M. (2014, January 16). Pledges for low-income students. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/01/16/obama-administration-announces-new-college-commitments-and-funding-low-income

10. Jenkins, D., & Fink, J. (2015). What we know about transfer. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center. Retrieved from Community College Research Center website: https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/media/k2/attachments/what-we-know-about-transfer.pdf

11. Soliz, A. (2015, July 16). Increasing community college student transfer rates. The Brown Center Chalkboard. Brookings. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2015/07/16/increasing-community-college-student-transfer-rates/

12. Bailey, T. R., Jaggars, S. S., & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges: A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Jenkins, D., Kadlec, A., & Votruba, J. (2014, July). The business case for regional public universities to strengthen community college transfer pathways (with guidance on leading the process). HCM Strategists. Retrieved from HCM Strategists website: http://hcmstrategists.com/maximizingresources/images/Transfer_Pathways_Paper.pdf

Reed, M. (2015, November 17). Guided pathways for transfer. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/guided-pathways-transfer

14. Wyner, J., & Jenkins, D. (2016, February 2). Narrower pathways to a bachelor’s degree. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/02/02/essay-state-policy-solutions-improve-student-transfer-community-colleges-four-year

15. Reed, M. (2015, November 17). Guided pathways for transfer. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/guided-pathways-transfer

16. Hern, K., & Snell, M. (2014, Fall). The California Acceleration Project: Reforming developmental education to increase student completion of college-level math and English. New Directions for Community Colleges, 167, 27–39.

17. Monaghan, D. B., & Attewell, P. (2015). The community college route to the bachelor’s degree. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 37, 70–91, p. 70.

18. Jenkins, D., Kadlec, A., & Votruba, J. (2014, July). The business case for regional public universities to strengthen community college transfer pathways (with guidance on leading the process). HCM Strategists. Retrieved from HCM Strategists website: http://hcmstrategists.com/maximizingresources/images/Transfer_Pathways_Paper.pdf

Marcus, J. (March 22, 2013). Stopping the clock on credits that don’t count. Hechinger Report. Retrieved from http://hechingerreport.org/stopping-the-clock-on-credits-that-dont-count/

Reed, M. (2016, January 24). What do you advise Amy to take? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/what-do-you-advise-amy-take

19. Bailey, T. R., Jaggars, S. S., & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges: A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

20. Baron, K. (2013, November 7). Judge upholds shared governance at community colleges. Edsource. Retrieved from http://edsource.org/2013/judge-upholds-shared-governance-at-community-colleges/41077

Bowen, W. G., & Tobin, E. M. (2015). Locus of authority: The evolution of faculty roles in the governance of higher education. New York: Ithaka; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 186.

California Competes. (n.d.). Local community college governance. Retrieved from http://californiacompetes.org/issues/local-community-college-governance/

Flaherty, C. (2015, June 5). Losing hope in Wisconsin. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/06/05/faculty-members-protest-tenure-shared-governance-changes-board-regents

Kelderman, E. (2014, November 19). The plight of the public regional college. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/The-Plight-of-the-Public/150127

Mytelka, A. (2015, July 14). San Jose State president, who led online push, will leave for post in Afghanistan. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/san-jose-state-president-who-led-online-push-will-leave-for-post-in-afghanistan/101991

Reichman, H. (2014, December). Benno Schmidt backs report calling on trustees to reduce faculty authority. Clarion. Retrieved from http://www.psc-cuny.org/clarion/december-2014/benno-schmidt-backs-report-calling-trustees-reduce-faculty-authority

Straumsheim, C. (May 9, 2014). Rutgers graduate faculty rejects online degree compromise. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2014/05/09/rutgers-graduate-faculty-rejects-online-degree-compromise

Straumsheim, C. (August 13, 2014). A changing economy changes online education priorities at the U. of California. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/13/changing-economy-changes-online-education-priorities-u-california

Straumsheim, C. (2014, November 10). U. of Florida political science department declines to build a fully online degree. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/11/10/u-florida-political-science-department-declines-build-fully-online-degree

Thomsen, J. (2015, July 23). Faculty members and president face off in fight over curriculum changes. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/07/23/faculty-members-and-president-face-fight-over-curriculum-changes

‘Truce’ in battle over Connecticut State Colleges? (2014, November 24). Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2014/11/24/truce-battle-over-connecticut-state-colleges

21. Jaschik, S. (2016, October 21). Professors criticize gen ed changes at Concord U. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2016/10/21/professors-criticize-gen-ed-changes-concord-u

22. Board of Trustees. University of Illinois. (2013, January 24). Statutes. Retrieved from http://www.bot.uillinois.edu/statutes

23. Education Commission of the States. (2016, April 18). Transfer and articulation policies: State profiles. Retrieved from https://www.ecs.org/transfer-and-articulation-policies-state-profiles/

24. Mytelka, A. (2015, July 14). San Jose State president, who led online push, will leave for post in Afghanistan. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/ticker/san-jose-state-president-who-led-online-push-will-leave-for-post-in-afghanistan/101991

25. Flaherty, C. (2015, June 5). Losing hope in Wisconsin. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/06/05/faculty-members-protest-tenure-shared-governance-changes-board-regents

26. Baron, K. (2013, November 7). Judge upholds shared governance at community colleges. Edsource. Retrieved from http://edsource.org/2013/judge-upholds-shared-governance-at-community-colleges/41077

California Competes. (n.d.). Local community college governance. Retrieved from http://californiacompetes.org/issues/local-community-college-governance/

27. Straumsheim, C. (August 13, 2014). A changing economy changes online education priorities at the U. of California. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/08/13/changing-economy-changes-online-education-priorities-u-california

28. ‘Truce’ in battle over Connecticut State Colleges? (2014, November 24). Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2014/11/24/truce-battle-over-connecticut-state-colleges

29. Kelderman, E. (2014, November 19). The plight of the public regional college. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/The-Plight-of-the-Public/150127

30. Thomsen, J. (2015, July 23). Faculty members and president face off in fight over curriculum changes. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/07/23/faculty-members-and-president-face-fight-over-curriculum-changes

31. Board of Regents. (n.d.). Bylaws of the Board of Regents. University System of Georgia. Retrieved from http://www.usg.edu/regents/bylaws#charter_and_constitutional_authority

32. 50-state comparison: Transfer and articulation policies. (2016, April 18). Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from Education Commission of the States website: http://www.ecs.org/transfer-and-articulation-policies-db/

33. Watkins, M. (2017, February 12). Texas lawmakers search for ways to avoid wasted college credits. The Texas Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/12/texas-lawmakers-search-ways-stop-millions-wasted-college-credit-hours/

34. National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Policy Alert, February 2010, p. 3.

35. Keeping the promise: Going the distance on transfer reform. (2016, March). The Campaign for College Opportunity. Retrieved from http://collegecampaign.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/2016-Keeping-the-Promise_Full-Report-FINAL.pdf

36. Keierleber, M. (2014, April 7). 4-year colleges’ view of transfer credits may hinder graduation. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/4-Year-Colleges-Views-of/145753/

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