A New CUNY Community College Is Opening in 2012

It will offer extra support to students—but with a catch

“It’s better to encourage students to go full-time if they can,” says Thomas Bailey, director of an independent research consortium called the Community College Research Center, who served on the new college’s planning committee. “If you’re going to take years to finish, there’s just that much more time for life to get in the way. A million things could happen. You could lose your job or you could get a new job. You might get married or have a baby. If you could just get kids to bite the bullet and go full-time and get it over with, chances are they’ll finish.”

The problem is that community college students may have full-time jobs and families to care for. Part-time enrollment might work best for these students, but that means they can’t partake of the needed services that the new college will offer.

“If a student has not had the advantages of the middle class and grew up not going to museums, not going abroad, working, coming sometimes from busted-up families, the idea that they might need more time to finish strikes me as reasonable,” says Cooper. “But I can’t get that across to the efficiency experts.”

Students prepping for the original GED exam
Courtesy Marion Swinford
Students prepping for the original GED exam
The new CUNY school will ultimately move to a John Jay building.
Sarah E. Sellars
The new CUNY school will ultimately move to a John Jay building.

The planning committee hopes that one-on-one personal advisement every step of the way will help compensate for this, ensuring that if students get off track, their advisers will swiftly set them straight. Advisers will also work together with faculty on everything from evaluating learning disabilities to determining if students need financial aid.

For now, the new community college has the funds to support its efforts to increase graduation rates. In addition to CUNY funds, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has allocated $8.9 million toward the new community college in this year’s city budget; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given $1.1 million, and other donors smaller amounts. Mayor Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity, which funds ASAP, will provide money for advisement services, while CUNY will seek private funds for tuition assistance, free textbooks, and MetroCards.

These services are too costly to provide at most community colleges, says George Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges. (He cites a College Board report that found many community college students are eligible for federal financial aid, but never apply for it, because support staff aren’t available to advise them.)

Those who participated in the planning stressed that the new college design and curriculum are based on sound research. They say they listened to input from faculty, community-based organizations, students, experts in curriculum-planning, among many others.

Not so, says Lenore Beaky, an English professor at LaGuardia Community College, who says that faculty were only asked to participate in cursory ways. “The new college is an insult to our students,” says Beaky. “It treats them as if they are children who need to be protected from choice and chance.”

“This is very unusual and ambitious,” says Bailey of the Community College Research Center. “They’re saying, ‘Let’s try something new and different, rather than just tinker around the edges.’ When you’re working with an established institution, it has its culture and its people in place. That makes it much more difficult to bring about radical change. So if you’re trying to create a new type of school, it’s better to build it from the ground up with people who have been hired for that specific purpose.”

For their part, the planners see the new community college as a work in progress. “Let’s look at what works,” says Lisa Hale Rose, an assistant professor of human services at the Borough of Manhattan Community College who was involved in the development of the new college. “Let’s assess and measure it. And if it doesn’t work, let’s change it.”

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