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A SUNY Milestone in Student Transfer

SUNY Seamless Transfer map - Community Colleges to Universities and back all lead to success. On December 17, 2012, the Board of Trustees passed a Resolution setting new policy to ensure seamless student transfer. The Resolution, two years in the making and representative of a University-wide consultative process, marks an important milestone for SUNY and serves as a terrific example of the important role that System Administration can play in supporting SUNY’s core mission.

It’s likely that each of us know (in fact some of us may well be…) students who started their academic career at one college, and ultimately attended two, three, or even four institutions on the path to earning a degree. For many who begin their studies at a community college, transfer to a four-year institution is part of their plan from the start.  For others, it can be a change of interests, new responsibilities, or any number of life circumstances that leads to the decision to transfer. Last year alone, 27,000 students transferred from one SUNY campus to another.

We know that the transfer process can be challenging to navigate for both parents and students.  It means new applications, new considerations about financial aid, and critical questions about whether or not the new college will accept course credits from the former institution.  Students want to know that they will retain credits earned to date and that generally, those credits will carry the same value at a new campus, i.e., that they will not have to re-take a course previously passed.  There is no question that the extent to which the transfer process runs smoothly is directly tied to graduation rates and time to graduation, and as a result, to college costs.

The December resolution builds on previous student transfer policies and responds to a charge from Chancellor Zimpher to resolve existing obstacles to seamless transfer. Important to its success, this resolution is grounded in one of the most comprehensive research efforts ever conducted of how students move through SUNY.  My staff and I spent many hours pulling information from campus course catalogs to identify course requirements for the first two years of Associate of Arts (A.A.) and Associate of Science (A.S.) programs at our community colleges and in Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) programs at our four-year colleges.  We reviewed student enrollment files to identify the courses taken in the most popular majors in the first two years and documented the course descriptions for all.

With the support and leadership of the University Faculty Senate and Faculty Council of Community Colleges as part of the Student Mobility Project, we sent that information to over 400 two- and four-year faculty in various disciplines who developed new, common course descriptions for 140 types of “SUNY transfer path” course prototypes. Campuses ultimately identified 15,000 courses that fit these descriptions, and those courses are now guaranteed to transfer in the major designated. This information, posted online, is now a student resource.

The Student Mobility Project paved the way for the recent Board of Trustees’ action that not only defined the transfer pathways as SUNY policy, but set specific criteria for the range of SUNY general education courses that would be taken by students in their first two years[1]  and established a credit cap for degree programs to guide on-time degree completion for students we are successful in completing required courses.

Office staff are now developing a Memorandum to Campus Presidents to guide implementation of the Seamless Transfer Resolution.  My thanks go to Academic Affairs staff, Chancellor Zimpher, the SUNY Trustees, campus leaders, and most notably, to SUNY faculty and faculty governance leaders who all worked so tirelessly on this important effort.  This measure will have a significant impact and has become my “go-to” story when anyone asks me about what we do here at System Administration.


[1]  SUNY general education requirement: 30 credits in 7 of 10 subject areas and 2 competencies:

Areas: basic communication (required); mathematics (required); American history; other world civilizations; foreign language; social sciences; humanities; arts; natural sciences; western civilization.  Competencies: critical thinking (required); information management (required)

Written by David Lavallee

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