The Tale of Two Tails
In this difficult economy, it’s imperative that we help more students earn the degrees and skills they need to advance themselves. But it’s worth reminding ourselves that education is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise. Today The City University of New York serves 270,000 degree-seeking students. Each one begins their college experience with different expectations. It’s a story that I call “The Tale of Two Tails.” CUNY is now enrolling more and more high-achieving students. That’s a tail at one end of the preparedness spectrum. We’re also enrolling a growing number of underprepared students—a tail at the other end. That means that our students don’t begin at the same starting line. Nonetheless, our goal is to help each of them finish. This requires relentless innovation. We must develop targeted ways to challenge and support each student and maximize their ability to succeed, both in college and in life.
For example, community colleges are an outstanding resource for many students. They enroll almost half of all undergraduates nationwide. But the three-year graduation rate for urban community colleges is just 16 percent. That’s why CUNY, in partnership with the city, created the ASAP initiative: Accelerated Study in Associate Programs. ASAP is designed to create clear pathways to a degree. It requires full-time study in small classes and offers comprehensive advising, tuition waivers for eligible students, and free use of textbooks and a monthly MetroCard.
The program has yielded remarkable results. The 2,500 participants in ASAP to date have a combined three-year graduation rate of 56 percent, compared to a 23 percent three-year graduation rate for a similar group of non-ASAP students. CUNY is expanding ASAP over the next two years. And CUNY’s New Community College, which opened this fall, incorporates several ASAP principles in its design.
At the same time, we know that many highly prepared students are looking for a challenging, eye-opening college experience in the city—one that won’t break the bank. That’s why we created the Macaulay Honors College in 2001. The college is tuition free. Students get a laptop and a New York City cultural passport that offers free or low-cost access to cultural venues, along with research assistantships, study-abroad options, and internship opportunities. Sixty percent of Macaulay students are immigrants or the children of immigrants, and the current class has a high school average of 93 percent and average SAT scores over 1400. The result has been some truly exceptional Macaulay graduates, including two Rhodes scholars and numerous Truman, Goldwater, Fulbright, and National Science Foundation scholars, as well as a rapidly expanding pool of applicants.
We’re proud of our commitment to helping all students enhance their learning through innovative programming. But as the Tale of Two Tails demonstrates, there is much work to do. First, we must be creative. There are no shortcuts. Specific challenges must be targeted with thoughtful interventions.
Second, CUNY’s work with the city’s public schools must remain a priority. Success in college depends on early planning and rigorous K-12 preparation. And third, the need for public support of public higher education has never been greater. A college education is still the best investment that society can make. It’s time that we all invested in futures: our students’ and our city’s. #
Matthew Goldstein is chancellor of The City University of New York.