CUNY’s College Now Program Offers High School Students a Taste of College
Picture the city as one great big open campus for public high school students. A student from the Bronx can take the subway to a CUNY campus in Brooklyn to attend a college course in psychology, statistics, business, or a host of other intriguing subjects, perhaps getting college credit at the same time.
That’s exactly the vision behind College Now, a CUNY program that began two decades ago at Kingsborough Community College and has since expanded to include some 33,000 students from 80 percent of the city’s public high schools (all 17 undergraduate CUNY campuses participate in the program.) “We intend to be a universal program for students who attend school in New York City,” sums up John Garvey, CUNY’s Associate Dean for Collaborative Programs.
Designed to help New York City public school students enroll in and succeed in college, College Now provides two kinds of courses for two kinds of students: credit courses, which are college-level courses providing college credit; and foundation courses, a new generation of “pre-college” courses that are strongly linked to particular academic disciplines. “It’s our obligation to offer a particular student the right kind of opportunity at the right time,” explains Garvey. “For a student who is still struggling with high school level math, to enroll him or her in a college level math course is irresponsible. On the other hand, to enroll that student in something that is college-like, as a way of intriguing him or her with the possibilities, makes all the sense in the world.” A sampling of foundation courses available on the College Now website (www.collegenow.cuny.edu) reveals an interesting assortment of non-college credit courses (some of which might lead to high school credit), including a summer marine ecology institute, culinary arts, forensic science, and news writing.
For the student who is able to take courses for college credit, CUNY provides literally hundreds of offerings in business, the arts, communications, computer science and engineering, education, health, math, science, and social sciences. For these students, CUNY’s goal of bolstering student success in college is borne out by the research. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Education’s former Senior Research Analyst, Clifford Adelman, entitled “The Toolbox Revisited”, analyzed hordes of longitudinal student data to conclude that the most important predictor of college graduation is completion of freshman year with twenty or more credits. Garvey puts it like this: “Let’s imagine that you take two courses when you’re in twelfth grade, an ‘x’ and a ‘y’, in a program of study at Hunter College. We’d like you to think about going to summer school between twelfth grade and college to take the ‘z’ and the ‘a’. When you get to your first semester of college, you’re ready to do ‘b’, ‘c’, ‘d’ and ‘e’…. So if we can use the pre-college work as an occasion to give the kids a real head start, it makes it more likely that they’re going to be successful.”
Garvey is the first to admit that there’s still work to be done to make College Now even better. He’d like to improve student performance in the College Now courses (currently 80 percent of the students get a ‘C’ or better; “we’d like it to be 90 percent.”) And he wants to improve student satisfaction “so that students turn to each other and their parents, and say, ‘That was really great.’” Of course, additional funding wouldn’t hurt, either: “There are lots of good things that need to be supported,” adds Garvey about this $11 million annual program. But in the face of national statistics—only 32 percent of all U.S. students leave high school qualified to succeed in four-year colleges—College Now is making big strides to close the achievement gap in New York City.#