NY City Council Hears Concerns over CUNY Pathways Program

Increase in transfers within CUNY system causing concern about general education curriculum
By Catherine Yang, Epoch Times
February 26, 2014 Updated: March 1, 2014

NEW YORK—City University of New York (CUNY) implemented its Common Core Pathways program a semester ago yet confusion and questions still abound. Students and faculty expressed their concerns at a City Council oversight meeting, Feb. 25.

A LaGuardia Community College student who spoke at the hearing was advised to switch to Pathways so he could transfer to CUNY’s Hunter College without losing credits.

So far he’s been happy with the courses he’s been required to take, but noted faculty concerns that curriculum quality has been sacrificed. “I feel students have been caught in the crossfire,” the student said.

“Over the last year, a lot of concerns were expressed over what Pathways is, what it does, and whether it’ll diminish the value of a CUNY degree,” said Inez Barron, city council chair of the Higher Education Committee, who attended Hunter College.

All students enrolling from Fall 2013 onward are automatically enrolled in Pathways, and those who entered CUNY prior to that can opt-in.

Increased Transfers

Julia Wrigley, interim executive vice chancellor of CUNY, said she understood there has been opposition because each CUNY school had been accustomed to creating its own general education programs and did not necessarily want to change them.

“It was fine when CUNY didn’t have so many transfers,” but now it’s no longer workable, said Wrigley. According to CUNY’s Office of Institutional Research, 62 percent of CUNY’s 2011–2012 transfers were between CUNY colleges. About 29 percent of CUNY freshmen transfer.

Supporters of Pathways said this will raise the graduation rate because students can keep credits when they transfer. Critics said it will lower it because of substandard education. But the program is new and there is little data to support either side. CUNY looked to the University of Georgia, which implemented a similar program, to make its decision. Wrigley said it had made transfers easier for students there, and that eased their concerns.

Concern Over Lower Standards

K.E. Saavik Ford, associate professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College, cited an example she had teaching a science course where students did not have the experience she expected them to gain in middle school.

Saavik Ford opposes the Pathways program because it lowers the hours of science lab courses required from four to three. She feels the students are being shortchanged, and teachers are being ridiculed. “This is pure credit inflation, sure to embarrass us on the national stage,” she testified at the committee hearing.

Saavik Ford pointed to the related problem of remedial work in city schools. According to New York state education data, less than half of the 2009 high school graduates in the state were prepared for college, measured by regents test scores in English and math. Even fewer New York City students were prepared—only 23 percent.

Students may do twice the remedial courses when they transfer, according to Jaquonna Hardy of Hostos Community College’s Student Leadership Academy.

Hardy said many students she works with take the required remedial courses in community college and again when they transfer under the Pathways program. “It’s a good concept, but there are a lot of missing links,” Hardy said.

The CUNY Board of Trustees approved Pathways in June 2011. The program went into effect in the fall of 2013 after much controversy.

Pathways was created to make transfers between CUNY colleges easier by offering a set of general education courses that apply to majors across the board. Pathways is not meant to replace remedial work, Wrigley said. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the name of the LaGuardia Community College student in paragraphs two and three.  Epoch Times regrets the error.