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Deep and intentional collaboration between community colleges and bachelor’s-degree granting institutions is one of the most effective methods of improving outcomes for transfer students. The success of institutional dyads, pairs of high-transfer sending and receiving schools in a region, was specifically highlighted in the data released by the U.S. Department of Education in Fall 2023. When strong collaboration exists, transfer students are more successful.

Sustaining meaningful partnerships between two or more institutions to promote the success of students is work that far exceeds an occasional articulation agreement or a once a year meeting of academic advisers. It requires figurative or literal spaces that purposely bring together staff, faculty and administrators to share successes and solve challenges. The CUNY Transfer Explorer (CUNY T-Rex) Community of Practice (CoP), a collaboration between the City University of New York (CUNY) and nonprofit Ithaka S+R, is one of those spaces. CUNY T-Rex is a website that shows how all credits and past learning transfer and apply to program requirements. The CUNY T-Rex CoP has become a catalyst for change and collaboration across its ten member schools.

Launched shortly after the release of CUNY T-Rex, the CoP includes membership from six community colleges and four bachelor’s-degree granting schools from CUNY and the State University of New York (SUNY). Formed as a part of the Articulation of Credit Transfer (ACT) Project, the group’s original focus was to provide feedback on the development and implementation of the CUNY T-Rex credit mobility website, along with sharing updates on individual institutional progress around specific transfer goals. As the goals and scope of the group expanded, meetings, facilitated by Ithaka S+R, morphed into providing participants previews of in-development website tools, engaging group members to brainstorm new functionality, sharing findings from user testing with students and advisers, and having open space for transfer-related discussions.

The opportunity to connect with professionals working toward transfer success across multiple institutions soon resulted in the monthly meetings shifting beyond just T-Rex, and into the processes, policies, and institutional bottlenecks blocking transfer success. Examples and best practices shared by one institution in a meeting often inspired others to find out what was happening on their campus and push for change. 

CUNY Hostos Community College and CUNY Brooklyn College provide examples of the type of change Members of the CUNY T-Rex CoP from these institutions share below the impact of the CoP collaborative space within their campuses.

Rocio Rayo — Hostos Community College

Hostos is located in the poorest congressional district in the country. Like most of our students, we who work at Hostos have learned we have to rely on social capital to succeed. Our most valuable currency is our relationships. After being at Hostos almost 17 years in several different capacities, I still rely on the relationships I have built with people on campus to move transfer work forward. Whether it is a professor I had who is now the chair of an academic department helping me coordinate class visits to discuss T-Rex, or a former classmate who is now an adviser at a senior CUNY college. The CoP understands that this social capital is not only important at Hostos, but important to community building across CUNY. The CoP allows me to be a part of the policy building, the construction of a framework that gives us and students the tools to make navigating transfer easier. 

In my very first CoP meeting, we were tasked with coming up with some ideas for what the landing page should look like for T-Rex. At that moment there was not enough use of the dinosaur mascot, so I immediately went to YouTube to learn how to draw one. Everyone in the room came with varying levels of artistic creativity and what stuck with me was the message that while I am not an expert on web design or graphic design, I am an expert on the usability of websites to help students. Prioritizing our knowledge as experts in using the website was transformative. This deconstruction of power dynamics between deans, advisers, directors, “junior” or “senior” colleges, allowed us to all share our renderings of a landing page. It also brought us together into a space that leveled some of the boundaries that can lead to challenges in collaboration.

This is why the CoP works. It provides space for an institution (CUNY) made up of several independent institutions to each feel as if their needs/goals are considered simultaneously with those of others. It does so without reducing the individual institutional needs, but rather by making the amalgamation of the needs be the force moving the vehicle—transfer—forward.

Tracy Newton — Brooklyn College

At Brooklyn College, the CoP has been an invaluable resource that focuses a much-needed lens on the experience of our transfer students. Foremost was the Campus Climate survey, inspired by discussion in the CoP, which we conducted and which provided us with a comprehensive baseline of the transfer student experience on our campus, as well as enabling strategic planning to address any concerns or difficulties.

There were many lessons derived from working with CoP colleagues across the University. In order to make significant improvement for our students, we actively collaborated, innovated, engaged and implemented with these colleagues. The intense sharing of information within the CoP illuminated very specific gaps in the support our transfer students needed. Our colleagues were candid and forthright in sharing their attempts to mitigate similar issues which, in turn, encouraged our team at Brooklyn College to be innovative in our approaches and to reevaluate and modify some of our practices.

As a result of our CoP participation, we also engaged faculty in new ways on our campus.  Our President created a “Tiger Team” to raise prominent transfer issues and share possible solutions. Faculty leaned into these conversations and were committed to decreasing roadblocks for our transfer students. The knowledge shared in the CoP allowed us to make data-informed decisions in consultation with faculty members. As a campus, we improved the speed of transcript evaluation, increased the applicability of courses toward specific programs while decreasing the award of general elective credit, and trained faculty on the use of CUNY T-Rex. It became clear that we also needed to be more intentional when offering support to potential transfer students attending our community colleges. The Map Credits to CUNY Major Requirements function in CUNY T-Rex inspired us to pilot a “curriculum coach” role.  These coaches meet with students who are interested in transferring to Brooklyn College in advance of the completion of their associate’s degrees at CUNY’s Kingsborough Community College and Borough of Manhattan Community College, reviewing specific degree requirements (utilizing Brooklyn College’s DegreeMaps), discussing applicability of completed courses and planned courses (utilizing CUNY T-Rex), and connecting prospective students to curricular experts from Brooklyn College departments, if necessary, far in advance.

Conclusion

The examples shared by Rocio and Tracy highlight the power of cross-institutional connectivity and collaboration. To support a CoP model in your region, we recommend the following tips and strategies:

  • Create a group charter to help set purpose, expectations, and norms.
  • Design meetings to encourage relationship-building and foster collaboration.
  • Center discussions on participants’ experience, emphasizing practical rather than theoretical topics, and have participants volunteer to lead discussion topics.
  • Set agendas that don’t require participants to do any “homework” prior to the meeting.
  • Use meeting time to problem solve and gain real-time feedback from practitioners in the field.
  • Remember that, as a facilitator, your number one role is to get people talking!

The CUNY T-Rex CoP continues to meet monthly and has now added a speaker series to engage participants in critical discussions around topics including credit mobility for dual-enrolled high school students. In addition, the ACT Project has launched a multi-state Universal Transfer Explorer CoP with member institutions from Connecticut, South Carolina, Washington and New York that meets monthly.

Cross-institutional communities of practice can serve as the ignition for collaboration and change. They can even the playing field across roles, divisions and institution types so members can openly share challenges and find solutions together.

Author Bios

Rocio Rayo, Director of Transfer Services, Hostos Community College, City University of New York

Rocio Rayo is currently the director of transfer services at Hostos Community College. She graduated from Hostos Community College in 2011 and completed her B.A./M.A. in history at the City College of New York in 2014. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Tracy Newton, Executive Director of Academic Advisement & Student Success, Brooklyn College, City University of New York

For over 20 years, Tracy Newton’s work has been focused on academic advising and student success. At Brooklyn College, Tracy has served as a professional adviser and as director of academic advisement. She now serves as the executive director of academic advisement and student success.

Pooja Patel, Senior Analyst, Ithaka S+R

Pooja Patel is a senior analyst on Ithaka S+R’s Educational Transformation team. She contributes to Ithaka S+R’s work on transfer of credit issues and research around stranded credits.

Emily Tichenor, Senior Program Manager, Ithaka S+R

Emily is a member of Ithaka’s S+R Educational Transformation team leading initiatives and research focused on credit mobility.

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