Community Colleges are the ‘Gateway’ to Academic and Career Success

When New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg spoke at BMCC on Thursday, August 13th, he stressed the importance of having a dream, especially here in New York—dreams that are made possible by the help, support and funding of community colleges, such as BMCC.

“There are many New York stories brought to us by community colleges,” said Bloomberg. “People come from all around the world to New York, and they are all ambitious. The opportunities here are greater than any other place.”

Ebony Childs, BMCC student
Someone who knows about opportunities is BMCC student Ebony Childs. Childs had the honor of introducing Mayor Bloomberg at the podium, where he gave a powerful speech that outlined his “Gateway to the Middle Class” plan.

Childs is a student in BMCC’s ASAP Program. Funded by the City of New York and Mayor Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) is a special program at The City University of New York’s Community Colleges. ASAP at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) emphasizes enriched academic support, personal academic advisement and employment services to prepare students to graduate with their associate degree in two to three years, and either transfer to a four year college/university or enter the workforce with full time employment.

Childs grateful for ASAP’s opportunities
“To be honest, I wouldn’t be able to go to college if it weren’t for the ASAP program” said Childs, a Liberal Arts major who graduates this semester. Childs enrolled at BMCC in 2007, and was accepted into the ASAP program after her admittance to the school. “I heard about ASAP through word of mouth,” she said. “The counselors were great, and helped me a lot.”

Childs balanced a few jobs, including one as a receptionist, during her tenure at BMCC. Luckily, as an ASAP student, she was able to register for classes early, and get the classes she wanted, which allowed her the opportunity to work while attending BMCC. Childs’ high GPA, made possible with the support from ASAP, recently earned her a spot in a special program at Vassar College.

Childs’ is also a Kaplan Scholar and a member of Phi Theta Kappa, BMCC’s Honor Society. She is determined to transfer to a four year college after BMCC and pursue a career as a professional writer. “Take advantage of the ASAP program,” Childs advises future BMCC students. “Staffers and students involved with ASAP truly help open doors for you. For example, the program gave me the chance to introduce the Mayor, which was both exciting and terrifying at the same time.”

She called the ASAP program her “driving force.”

Bloomberg’s ‘Gateway to the Middle Class’
According to BMCC President Antonio Pérez, the last time Mayor Bloomberg came to BMCC, he came to the college to announce additional funding for Fiterman Hall, the campus building damaged on 9/11. “It’s great to welcome you to BMCC,” he said of Bloomberg. “We serve a very diverse population here.”

This time, Bloomberg came to BMCC to announce his new “Gateway to the Middle Class” plan, which expands the middle class by transforming the city’s community colleges. Bloomberg’s plan will invest an additional $50 million over the next four years in community colleges, including BMCC.

“New York City puts 1/3 of its money into community colleges,” said Bloomberg. “Our goal is to have 120,000 more graduates pursuing more rewarding careers and improving life for themselves and their families by the year 2010.”

Bloomberg’s ‘Gateway to the Middle Class’ plan will invest an additional $50 million over the next four years to improve the system’s quality and accountability; create new training programs in growing fields; fight to lift the state and Federal restrictions that prevent middle-class New Yorkers from taking full advantage of financial aid; help New Yorkers save for school and much more. New Yorkers can read the entire plan at: www.mikebloomberg.com/gateway.

“We’ve come a long way and over the next several months, I’ll be laying out my vision for New York,” said Bloomberg. “It’s going to be an exciting new era for our community colleges. We have some of the best community colleges in the country here in New York.”

Mayor Bloomberg also supports more child care on campuses and a reasonable fee for tuition and books. “With expanded hours and days for child care, our children to benefit the way their parents will benefit,” he said, stressing that more women—especially young mothers—are currently enrolled in community colleges than their male counterparts.

Following President Obama’s vision
Last month, President Barack Obama set a goal of graduating five million Americans from community colleges by 2010. Like we do in so many other areas from green jobs to community service, New York City, “can, and will, lead the way,” said Bloomberg. “Sixty percent of CUNY’s community college students come from households that earn less than $30,000 a year and 66 percent of them work at least part-time while taking classes,” he continued.

According to Bloomberg, “We owe it to them to make our community colleges more accessible and effective at preparing New Yorkers for high demand and higher paying jobs.”

Bloomberg said his ‘Gateway’ approach will increase the number of students enrolled in a community college by 40 percent by the year 2020. “Community colleges will give them the job training skills they need to survive.” He stressed that under his plan, he’ll make the “remodernization” of community college a priority.

Community colleges help New Yorkers ‘get through the recession’
Bloomberg added, enrolling in a community college will help Americans get through this recession. “Today’s economy offers more opportunities for small businesses,” he said. “Promoting their growth is crucial to this City’s economic future.”

When it comes to jobs, Bloomberg mentioned two fields that are growing, despite the economy. “There has been an increase of opportunities in health care and green jobs. There will be more than 500 annual job openings for licensed nurse practitioners. We want more New Yorkers to qualify for these jobs,” he said. “They will help us deliver the healthcare services we need.”

Bloomberg said that under his plan, all of CUNY’s community colleges will offer some type of business course, including New York City’s newest community college—an undertaking that is currently an academic work-in-progress.

New York City’s newest community college
Plans are currently in development for another community college to open in New York City. Space at CUNY’s John Jay College is being reserved for the new school. “This will be the first new two year institute of higher education to be built in New York City in 37 years,” said Bloomberg. “It will have a curriculum that is shaped by those already in the field.”

This ‘cutting-edge’ new college has already received funding from the Gates Foundation. It will also only offer majors in growing fields, including green technology.

ASAP ‘just the beginning’
CUNY’s ASAP program, made instrumental by Bloomberg, was praised and recognized by the Mayor during his speech.

“We believe our [Gateway] strategy will help attract more students to community colleges,” he said. “Too many students who start at a community college struggle to finish. Only 20 percent of students complete a degree in two to three years.”

This is where the ASAP program comes in. Created in 2007, ASAP students can schedule classes around their jobs, register early for classes, have access to ASAP-oriented tutors and guidance counselors and find the academic support they need from fellow ASAP students as well as faculty members.

Other program perks include free cultural enrichment activities, job placement advisement; free monthly Metrocard, free use of textbooks, tuition assistance and more.

Bloomberg said, ASAP gives community college students the support they would find at a 4-year college. “ASAP guarantees you all the courses at periods and time that fit your life,” he added. “Our goal is to see 50% of participants graduate in three years. It’s been a huge success.” According to Bloomberg, ASAP students also achieve a higher GPA and move on to a 4-year school with ease.

“ASAP allows us to learn more about what it takes to help a student succeed,” he said. “Community college is the ultimate laboratory.”

ASAP is ‘just the beginning” when it comes to aiding community college students, said Bloomberg.

A ‘new model’ for community colleges
CUNY Chancellor Michael Goldstein told the audience and members of the press that when it comes to community colleges, he and Mayor Bloomberg agreed that too few students graduate, and those who do graduate take longer. “We believe we have a new model if successful, will serve as a paradigm shift for community colleges,” he said.

Goldstein believes that the ASAP program—which started with $200 million in funding— will graduate many more students within time. Praising Mayor Bloomberg, Goldstein said, “We could not implement ASAP if not for this mayor. We believe ASAP will get national attention.”

Bloomberg pointed out a special student—a young mother originally from Guyana— in the audience who currently attends Queensborough Community College. “She has a 3.3 GPA and yesterday she passed her nursing certification exam,” said Bloomberg. “Without a community college, she would not have had a chance at an education, and now she is the role model she wanted to be for her children.”

Community colleges have the power to inspire
According to Bloomberg, community college graduates earn 30 percent more than those with just a high school diploma. “Community colleges are the gateways to the middle class. Almost half of all Americans pursuing higher education are doing so at a community college,” he said.

Bloomberg believes that every community college student has a story to tell. That’s because New York City has the “largest, urban community college network in the country,” he said.

Community college graduates include successful doctors, award-winners and executives, Bloomberg told the audience.

“When you see community college students’ graduate, you can’t help but have confidence in them. Community college students have stories of determination,” he said. “We hope more of these inspiring stories come out in the years ahead.”