Study: CUNY Faculty Confused About Rules for Transfer Students

A study of more than 3,000 CUNY faculty revealed differing levels of knowledge about transfer students between two-year and four-year faculty.
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Bennett Leckrone is a news writer for BestColleges. Before joining BestColleges, Leckrone reported on state politics with the nonprofit news outlet Maryland Matters as a Report for America fellow. He previously interned for The Chronicle of Higher Ed...
Published on March 13, 2023
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  • City University of New York faculty were often unfamiliar with the student transfer process, according to a recent survey.
  • That CUNY survey of more than 3,000 faculty found differing attitudes toward the challenges transfer students face.
  • Faculty at bachelor's colleges underestimated the number of transfer students who graduate from their schools, one of the study authors told BestColleges.

A recent survey of more than 3,000 City University of New York (CUNY) educators found that faculty were often unfamiliar with transfer requirements — a finding that could mean potential barriers for students.

A key question posed by CUNY's Faculty Survey on Student Transfer (FSST) was whether having received an associate degree means more credits transferred to a bachelor's degree program for students.

That's not actually the case — earning an associate degree doesn't affect the number of credits transferred within the CUNY system. But only a small percentage of associate program and bachelor's program faculty answered the question correctly.

Roughly 42% of associate program faculty and 24% of bachelor's program faculty answered the question incorrectly, with half of associate faculty and 70% of bachelor's faculty saying they didn't know the answer.

Social psychologist and former CUNY interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz conducted the study alongside former CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor Alexandra Logue and Yoshiko Oka, a quantitative analyst at CUNY.

Rabinowitz has worked in the CUNY system since 1978 and in that time has served both as a faculty member and as the provost of CUNY's Hunter College. With that wide range of experience, including as an undergraduate advisor, she said she wasn't surprised at many of the findings. But one that stood out to her was how few faculty knew the percentage of transfer students in their own courses.

"One of the findings that shocked me is how few senior bachelor's college faculty knew any idea of what their current students, what percentage of their graduates, what percentages of their majors were transfer students," Rabinowitz told BestColleges. "And then, in every case, they underestimated that percentage."

When asked to rate their own knowledge of transfer policies on a 7-point scale, both community college faculty and faculty at bachelor's colleges rated themselves below the midpoint, according to a previous article by Rabinowitz.

The survey also revealed a disparity between community college and four-year college faculty in terms of perceived challenges for students.

Community college faculty were more likely to say a student being admitted to their desired major was their greatest challenge, whereas faculty at selective bachelor's colleges were more likely to say getting good grades or getting credits evaluated in time as the greatest challenge.

"Faculty from both sectors cared about transfer, but they cared about different things," Rabinowitz said. "Community college faculty cared about how their students were treated and how their courses were treated upon transfer. Faculty from bachelor's-granting colleges were concerned about the academic preparedness of transfer students."

Bachelor's colleges hold most of the power when it comes to transfers, Rabinowitz said. She said faculty from both community colleges and bachelor's-granting institutions need to be educated about transfer students and the transfer process.

"For many low-income students of color, first-generation college students, the only way they're going to get a bachelor's degree is to start in a community college," she said. "That's all they can afford, and that's where they're beginning. So transfer is a huge equity issue. I don't know that a lot of faculty think that way. It's not because they're ignorant or uncaring. It's because they haven't been presented with some of this information."

CUNY is a system built around transfer, but Rabinowitz said the survey results are likely applicable to schools beyond CUNY.

"Our big message is that leadership has to speak out," Rabinowitz said. "Leaders on all levels need to be educated on this, and they need to speak out because what we're doing is inadvertently harmful to our students. And it's also harmful to our local and national economies."

BestColleges previously reported that about 30% of community college students transfer to a four-year institution. Only a handful eventually transfer to some of the country's most selective schools, BestColleges reported, but those who get in often see success at those elite universities.