for Students in Vassar/CUNY Program
Seventeen years ago, two unlikely academic
partnersLaGuardia 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 Valleydrew 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.
|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.
How they decided to accomplish these goals was through the establishment
of Exploring Transfer at Vassar Collegea 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
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
"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
"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 institutionsSitting
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."