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Updated Tool Saves Time and Money to Improve Learner Outcomes

August 14, 2023 4-minute read
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Learners who move between institutions or complete learning through outside sources, such as occupational or military training, may experience confusion about which of their previous experiences will apply toward degree requirements at new institutions. This confusion may extend to faculty, advisors, and staff who are helping these learners navigate educational requirements. When previous learning does not count, this can cause learners to repeat work, spend more time and financial resources, and jeopardize their financial aid eligibility. One example of how not counting prior learning disrupts degree completion is transferring from two- to four-year institutions. Transfer alone results in the loss of an estimated 43% of credits for learners nationwide. And this represents only a fraction of the learning lost due to credit mobility; currently, there is no way to count how much prior learning gets lost when it occurs outside of institutional settings.

As part of our commitment to ease these transitions for learners from low-income backgrounds, Ascendium is supporting Ithaka S+R and the City University of New York (CUNY) in the expansion of CUNY Transfer Explorer through a three-year grant of $1.7 million. CUNY Transfer Explorer is a tool that provides clear, publicly accessible information to students, faculty, staff, and advisors about course equivalencies and program requirements involved in transferring between any pair of CUNY colleges. Since the tool’s launch in 2020, learners have been able to explore how their CUNY and dual enrollment program credits will transfer within the CUNY system. Since January 2023, learners have also been able to explore how their work-based training, military service, and other prior learning experiences will apply toward degree completion. With its aim of improving degree completion rates through improving learner and credit mobility, CUNY Transfer Explorer has served over 112,000 unique users to date.

Recently, CUNY and Ithaka S+R announced a further update to CUNY Transfer Explorer, known to frequent users as T-Rex, to increase transparency, accountability, and accessibility for learners, staff, and faculty. Learners can now run what-if scenarios to see how their planned credits and learning experiences could count toward CUNY major requirements so that they can make more informed decisions about their educational path. They can also access college performance metrics, including the average time between transfer application and decision, and watch video tutorials in the Help Center.

“Before T-Rex, there was no easy way to tell a transfer student how a credit would be handled after transfer,” said Christopher Buonocore, business owner of CUNY Transfer Explorer and Director of Student Success Initiatives at CUNY Lehman College. “T-Rex allows students and those who support them to explore different possibilities before making a course registration or transfer decision that may not be ideal. For example, a student who is finishing up an associate degree and knows they want to transfer as a psychology major can use T-Rex to decide upon the most transferable or degree-applicable elective to take in their last semester. This saves time and money as the student transitions to the bachelor’s degree.”

By emphasizing exploration, CUNY Transfer Explorer helps students navigate the postsecondary education system in a way that considers their prior learning experiences. CUNY is already seeing promising signs that this large-scale effort to rethink what counts toward a degree will result in decreased time to degree and increased completion rates. Christopher Buonocore notes that, in line with their goal of disseminating information about the tool, “T-Rex Ambassadors” have trained over 1,600 faculty and staff to increase awareness and usage as well as support students. One result is that learners are asking informed questions about transfer and requesting that unevaluated courses be given credit.

To serve even more postsecondary institutions and their learners, the Ithaka S+R team is currently working to replicate CUNY Transfer Explorer with technical support from Dxtera. According to Martin Kurzweil, Vice President of Educational Transformation at Ithaka S+R, this Universal Transfer Explorer “will allow students and other users to understand how academic credit earned anywhere will count toward degree requirements at all participating institutions.” They hope to implement the Universal Transfer Explorer by mid-2024, expanding the availability of the tool to other colleges and systems that have prioritized improving learner mobility and outcomes. Through Ascendium’s dedication to streamlining key learner transitions, we aim to fund such innovative programs, which can serve as a replicable model for other education systems across the country.