President Dario A. Cortes
Berkeley College’s Fast-Growing Appeal
The Berkeley Advantage: It’s a term many New Yorkers have heard, if only subconsciously, as the rapidly growing Berkeley College, which started as a secretarial school in 1931 but now educates some 8,000 students on seven campuses in New York and New Jersey, broadens its appeal throughout the greater metropolitan area.
President Dario Cortes, who has been at Berkeley’s helm for only 16 months but admits to being a fast learner, was only too happy to discuss his ambitious goals for the college when Education Update caught up with him at his colorfully appointed Midtown office, an inviting space that is adorned with sculptures and artwork from his travels to Argentina, Mexico, China, and Brazil and is often filled with students who are encouraged to stop by and talk. “We give opportunities for those students who probably never thought they could get a B.S. or an A.A,” he explained, noting that two-thirds of Berkeley’s student body is African-American and Latino, and that many come from economically disadvantaged families and must work either full- or part-time while attending school. Many students are fully funded through Pell Grants and financial aid, or they take out student loans (the college also provides $28 million in annual grants and scholarships to qualified students). With these demographics in mind, Berkeley offers a flexibility that allows students to “graduate in a timely fashion and in the right field of study so they can get jobs,” according to Dr. Cortes. To promote flexibility and expedite career preparation, Berkeley offers early curricular concentration in a pre-professional field of study (“they take courses in their major from Day 1”), ease of scheduling (“our last class ends at 10 p.m. so they can fit us into their work schedules”), a full complement of online courses that they can take anywhere in the world (there’s even a Memorandum of Understanding with the Navy allowing sailors to take online coursework), and on-the-job internships that impart real world job experiences. “We seek out professors who are practitioners — they are people who can bring to the classroom the practical applications within a given field,” he summed up. More than 20 career services professionals collectively specialize in each field of study and actively pursue job opportunities for every student, and the results speak for themselves: Berkeley’s graduate employment rate is a staggering 90 percent.
As a proprietary institution, Berkeley is proud of its corporate ethos. “It’s a very simple model,” explained Dr. Cortes. “We look at the bottom line very carefully. We benchmark everything we do. We have no tenure. We do student satisfaction reports. These are the things adults are looking for today!” Faculty receive recognition awards in a variety of areas, including innovation, adaptability, and leadership, while corporations who choose to partner with Berkeley (called Corporate Learning Partners) receive tuition discounts for their employees.
Among his many goals for the future, Dr. Cortes is committed to enhancing Berkeley’s academic rigor, expanding globalization initiatives (study abroad opportunities, global curricula, faculty exchange programs, and more), strengthening “green initiatives” that support the Bloomberg initiative of reducing the carbon footprint by 30 percent in ten years, developing more programs for the military, and supporting more community responsibility initiatives. He’s just presided over a sweeping administrative change whereby the five major schools — Business, Liberal Arts, Professional Studies, Continuing Education, and Graduate Studies — will be headed by deans (“it allows for a sense of identity and recognition”), and he’s breaking ground on a new campus in Brooklyn while putting the finishing touches on an MBA program that will begin in 2011.
“I transform an institution because of my desire to innovate,” summed up the energetic Dr. Cortes, who — with seven campuses to oversee — added with a touch of well-deserved pride, “I walk around a lot.” The peripatetic president, who has a Ph.D. in Latin American studies from the University of Illinois and a cadre of academic credentials from some of the top schools in the U.S., credits his mother with being one of the most significant mentors in his life. “We all need people to encourage us to move to the next level,” he reflected thoughtfully. Indeed, Dario Cortes is proving that many times over as he provides the tools, resources and vision to lead 8,000 Berkeley students into the 21st century workplace. #