cunny matters logo


February 2002
CUNY Responds: Rebuilding New York
CUNY Alumnus/Prize-winning Journalist Reports from Islamabad, Jalalabad, Kabul
City Tech Students Envision Rebuilding St. Nicholas Church
U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins Mulls Emergency Service of Verse
John Jay College and FEMA Address Urban Hazards
Helping Students Write about Trauma
Biography of a Life Cut Violently Short
CUNY Law Practice In the Public Interest Since 9/11
Graduate Center 9/11 Digital Archive
Windows on the World Chef Returns to City Tech following 9/11
Walt Whitman Sums Up “Human and Heroic New York”
Inaugural Conference on "Women and Work"
For Alzheimer’s Patients Life’s a Stage
Kingsborough Center Incubator of Global Virtual Enterprises
Governor Proposes State Budget
White House Urged to Support Pell Grant Increase
President Jackson Named to Schools Board
Fine Way To Learn About Steinway

City College Scholar-Director Chosen Cultural Affairs Commissioner by Mayor

Claire Shulman Honored by QCC

CUNY Counsel Elected Legal Aid Society Chair

Law Dean Glen Honored by State Bar

“American Art at the Crossroads”—
April Symposium at Graduate Center

Challenging Summer for Students in Vassar/CUNY Program


Challenging Summer for Students in Vassar/CUNY Program

On the Vassar campus are (from left) David Abbot, Borough of Manhattan Community College; Donna O'Neil, Dutchess Community College, a Vassar counselor who was once an ET student; Lawrence Nsereko and Daniel Miller, Ulster Community College.
On the Vassar campus are (from left) David Abbot, Borough of Manhattan Community College; Donna O'Neil, Dutchess Community College; a Vassar counselor who was once an ET student Lawrence Nsereko; and Daniel Miller, Ulster Community College.
Seventeen years ago, two unlikely academic partners—LaGuardia Community College, an urban community college in the heart of gritty Long Island City, and Vassar College, a prestigious four-year institution in the bucolic Hudson Valley—drew up a plan that would encourage LaGuardia students to go beyond the associate's degree and open their eyes to the numerous transfer opportunities that awaited them. Four years later the program was expanded to include Borough of Manhattan Community College and then community colleges throughout New York State.

How they decided to accomplish these goals was through the establishment of Exploring Transfer at Vassar College—a five-week summer program where a select group of community college students would discover first hand what it is like to attend classes at a challenging liberal arts college. For LaGuardia students it would offer them a rare opportunity to leave the urban streets of New York and the responsibilities of family and work to become full-time Vassar summer students.

"It was a life-changing experience for me," said Karlene Ferrone, who will graduate from LaGuardia in June. "Not only did I survive the challenge of the five-week tedious and intense intellectual boot camp in the summer of 2000, but I also developed an urgency to continue my education. At Vassar I tested my potential to excel and found that it is limitless." A human services major who moved to New York from Jamaica at the age of 16, honor society Phi Theta Kappa president, Student Senator, and mother of a four-year-old daughter, Karlene will continue working toward a bachelor's degree in social work at New York University in the fall.

Since the program kicked off in 1987 with the support of a $225,000 start-up grant from the Ford Foundation, over 600 students have gone through the program, and more than 77 percent have gone on to four-year institutions. Aside from Vassar, graduates have enrolled at such prestigious colleges and universities as Cornell, Mt. Holyoke, Columbia, Georgetown, and New York University, as well as senior colleges in the CUNY and SUNY systems. LaGuardia is one of six community colleges in The City University of New York system.

"This program has proven over the years that it can successfully show students that there are boundless opportunities open to them," said LaGuardia President Gail O. Mellow. "And it convinces them that no obstacle is so insurmountable that they cannot fulfill their goals."

What makes the statistics more outstanding is that the students who are targeted for the program have a sound academic record, but have no plans to pursue a baccalaureate degree.

"When LaGuardia and Vassar sat down to develop a program that would lead community college students on the path to the baccalaureate degree," said Dr. Colton Johnson, dean of the college at Vassar and co-designer of the program, "it was not new or unusual for community colleges to pursue a four-year degree at selected residential colleges. What was new and unusual, was that we would be identifying community college students who historically and predictably did not intend or even think about attending colleges of our sort."

Dr. Johnson and Dr. Janet Lieberman, special assistant to the LaGuardia president and program co-designer, felt that the best way to give these students a glimpse of the viable transfer opportunities, and to show them they have what it takes to attack the academic demands placed on them at a college such as Vassar, was to actually allow them to go through the experience. To achieve this goal, faculty from both institutions work together to develop three intellectually challenging courses each summer that are team-taught by Vassar and LaGuardia faculty. The five-week Vassar students enroll in two classes where they quickly discover the pressures of completing a research paper or project and the need to pull those all-nighters in order to complete the extensive reading requirements.

"When I first looked at all the books I was required to read and the paper that had to be written, I said, 'I can't do this. I may as well go home,'" said Penny Parsons, an Exploring Transfer alumna who went on to Mt. Holyoke after graduating from LaGuardia. "But once I got over being scared, I developed this attitude, 'it's time to do it,' and I did. Now I know that I will always get what I want. That is the best thing I got from the Vassar experience."

"We understand that two-year students need to gain confidence in their ability to succeed in difficult courses with high academic standards," said Dr. Lieberman. "The Vassar Institute allows them to realize that they can successfully take on the rigorous academic challenges that a senior college presents to its students."

The success of the program has prompted other institutions to adopt the program. Replications have been spurred at Smith College, which is collaborating with four local community colleges; at Miami Dade Community College; and at two Native American institutions–Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, North Dakota, and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bucknell University accepts its students from the Community College of Philadelphia in a program similar to LaGuardia's. "The LaGuardia and Vassar collaboration and its offsprings," said Lieberman, "are helping to open the senior college gates to community college students at a time when a baccalaureate degree is a necessary credential for social and economic mobility."