June 19, 2008 | CUNY Matters Columns
Today, almost half of all undergraduates in the United States are attending a community college. Here in New York City, the six community colleges of The City University of New York–Borough of Manhattan Community College, Bronx Community College, Hostos Community College, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College, and Queensborough Community College–serve nearly 79,000 degree-credit students, an increase of 12 percent since 2002, and almost 118,000 adult and continuing education students. This is our highest enrollment in more than 32 years.
These students look to community colleges as pathways to employment, especially as the economic climate worsens. As I have pointed out to state and city officials over the last few months, New York’s students need “recession insurance,” and CUNY’s community colleges offer it, through career training programs, workforce development, career ladders, and a strong academic foundation for transfer students.
Our students’ success is the city’s success, because our ambitious students are the city’s workforce–its talent and its taxpayers. CUNY’s community colleges serve a highly motivated student population: 60 percent women, 80 percent students of color, 70 percent working full-time or part-time, and most often adults with family responsibilities, including parenting or caring for elderly relatives. At every community college commencement ceremony this spring, we heard stories of highly accomplished graduates who found extraordinary educational opportunities and success at CUNY.
The importance of a community-college education to our workforce has been documented in numerous studies and in Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Associate-degree graduates or those with some college experience are less likely to be unemployed than those with only a high school diploma. They earn more, too: nationally, in 2006, the median annual earnings of workers with an associate’s degree or some college were about $5,000 more than those with just a high school diploma, meaning that these workers contribute more to the national, state, and local tax base.
CUNY’s community colleges play an indispensable role in the economic development of New York City. Almost 90 percent of our graduates are employed within six months of earning the associate degree, and over 94 percent are either employed or enrolled for additional education. CUNY students also stay in New York City: of those who are employed, 93 percent work in New York City, contributing to the city’s economy.
For example, over the last five years, CUNY has graduated half of all the new registered nurses that come from New York City-based nursing schools. On the 2007 National Council Licensure Examination–the national certification exam for nurses–six CUNY colleges, including LaGuardia Community College, Queensborough Community College, and Borough of Manhattan Community College, are among the top 10 schools in New York State with both the highest pass rates and 75 or more test takers. Thanks to the comprehensive work accomplished as a result of the report of the Chancellor’s 2002 Nursing Task Force–including implementation of my action plan to create new full-time faculty lines with competitive salaries–CUNY is making a significant contribution to the pressing need for qualified nurses.
Only with strong investment from the state and city and support from alumni and friends will our community colleges be able to continue to offer a high-quality education to the future nurses, teachers, accountants, social workers, health-care workers, and small business owners upon which our city depends. New York’s business community–from neighborhood agencies to international firms–has long recognized the importance of a strong partnership with our six community colleges. They have hosted student internships, supported training programs, consulted faculty experts, and hired CUNY graduates. Our recent CUNY communications program acknowledged 150 businesses across the city that have collaborated with the University’s community colleges. This “partnership in success” is indispensable to the economic health of our city.
Earlier this year, a report by the College Board called America’s community colleges “the nation’s overlooked asset,” despite the fact that the country’s 1,200 accredited two-year colleges are “the largest single sector of American higher education.” About half of all baccalaureate degree recipients attended community colleges before earning their degrees. The report notes that community colleges are the key to the country’s economic and social stability, giving students “the tools to navigate the modern world,” and called for increased federal, state, and local support of these critical institutions.
As more and more students strive to insure themselves against the economic forces that are mounting against them, we must keep open their pathways to education, which represent their best insurance policy. With serious public investment, CUNY’s community colleges can offer our students and our city the resources they need to weather any economic climate.