Advancing a More Equitable Transfer Agenda: Lessons from the City University of New York

A woman in athletic gear is walking across a bridge towards a platform in a tree.
Member Exclusive

Chet Jordan, Ph.D., Dean of Social Sciences and Professional Studies, Greenfield
Community College

We often neglect silence. In our quest to preserve and uplift success, we shy away from what isn’t there, from who and what was left behind, and from the stories that got lost along the way. It is beautiful to celebrate the grit, determination, and ability of those who cross the finish line but there is kaleidoscopic complexity in each individual who never comes into the camera’s view.

One of the largest subgroups in the American higher education system is comprised of transfer students. Although students transfer in various directions throughout the system, a vast majority attempt to transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions. Recent data show that 31% of students who first enroll at a community college transfer to a four-year college within six years (Shapiro et al., 2019). Astonishingly, close to 80% of community college students hope to earn a bachelor’s degree, yet 60% who enroll in a community college with the hope of transferring to a four-year institution fail to do so.

With these numbers in the foreground, it becomes imperative to interrogate the silence. The reasons why community college students struggle to achieve baccalaureate attainment represent a crisis in our collegiate system. This fact is underscored when institutional policies—which we as administrators and faculty members impose and create—are revealed to be the primary barriers to student success.

As one of the nation’s largest urban university systems, the City University of New York (CUNY) is a leader in community college reform. Transfer remains one of the most significant policy challenges for CUNY and is a critical area of research. Under the direction of former CUNY Executive Vice-Chancellor and University Provost Alexandra W. Logue, a team of scholars was assembled in 2018 to identify the “leaky pipeline” of transfer. Dr. Logue and her team were awarded several high-profile grants to determine where current polices negatively and disproportionately impact transfer students. The discussion that follows identifies key areas of policy reform and, in closing, offers practical steps institutions can take to make strides toward more equitable transfer pathways.

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