U.S. Education Department Awards $3.1 Million To Assist Hispanic Students at CUNY

With the graduation rate of Hispanic students in college lagging nationally, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $3.1 million grant for two colleges of The City University of New York to help Hispanic students from low income families complete their higher education.

The new grant, for CUNY’s LaGuardia Community College in Queens and New York City Technical College in Brooklyn, is one of just five “cooperative development” projects funded by the Department of Education in the 2001-02 fiscal year under its Title V program and the only one on the East Coast.

Faculty from both institutions will guide LaGuardia students to develop the skills needed to finish their two-year associate’s degrees and then continue their studies for a baccalaureate degree at New York City Technical College. The grant will fund an Internet-based electronic portfolio system that allows faculty from both colleges to closely monitor a student’s academic progress.

Nationally, Hispanic students have consistently lagged behind other ethnic groups in completing four or more semesters of college study and in earning bachelor’s degrees. In 1975, for example, only 6.6 percent of Hispanic students ages 25 and older had completed four or more semesters of college, according to figures compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics. The comparable figure for non-Hispanic whites was 12.3 percent, according to the Center. Two decades later, in 1996, the gap widened to 9.3 percent and 25.9 percent, respectively.

The most recent Census figures (2000) indicate that among young adults ages 25 to 34, 8.5 percent of Hispanics had earned a bachelor’s degree, compared with 23.8 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

The grant is expected to boost graduation rates at both colleges by 10 percent. The number of students transferring from LaGuardia to New York City Technical (NYCTC) is also expected to increase fivefold, from 20 per year to 100. “New York City Technical College will strengthen baccalaureate programs with better prepared students, while LaGuardia will increase its success in assisting Hispanic and other low-income students to successfully transfer to a senior college,” said NYCTC Provost Jo Ann La Perla, the co-director of the project.

More than 4,000 LaGuardia students have declared majors that can be transferred to NYCTC. The two colleges offer degree programs that complement one another, including programs in computer systems, paralegal training, hospitality management, human services, and advertising art and graphic design.

The two colleges will develop and implement a system that will enable 2,800 students to create electronic portfolios of their coursework – including presentations, projects and performances – for posting on the Internet. Through this technological link, professors, counselors and administrators from both institutions will follow students’ academic progress, enhance student learning and supply them with pertinent transfer information. The two colleges will benefit from being able to pinpoint the weaknesses in curricula, enabling them to strengthen courses, programs and teaching techniques.

Students will be responsible for selecting and commenting on the material they post on their web sites. According to Paul Arcario, associate dean for academic affairs at LaGuardia and co-director of the project, “This reflective process will lead to enhanced critical thinking skills and deepened insight into the larger educational process.”

While several colleges have used electronic portfolios to conduct assessments leading to improved student learning, the collaboration seeks to use this technology with the specific goal of improving the transfer rate between a two-year and a four-year college, which reportedly has not been done before.

LaGuardia students will be linked to on-line communities of NYCTC faculty and students in their academic disciplines. Through online conversations in these “virtual interest groups” (VIGS), the two-year students will receive career and transfer information and make valuable contacts. “VIGS will enable us to reach out to students who might not have access to exchanging ideas and information with faculty and students sharing their interests,” La Perla said.

At NYCTC, Hispanic enrollment has been increasing steadily, with 28 percent of all degree-seeking students and 30 percent of entering freshmen self-identifying as Hispanic, according to fall 2000 figures. At LaGuardia, Hispanics make up 39 percent of the student population, which represents a majority on campus.

This cooperative initiative, for which funding officially will commence on October 1, comes at a time when both NYCTC and LaGuardia face challenges to increase the retention, graduation and transfer rates of their Hispanic student populations.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Title V monies are targeted to schools with a 25 percent or higher Hispanic enrollment that serve low-income students. The other four colleges that received cooperative development grants are California State University at San Bernardino, Eastern New Mexico University at Roswell, Glendale Community College (CA) and Los Angeles City College.