Older Adults Returning to College Find LaGuardia Community College’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) a Good Starting Point

Long Island City, NY—Efrain Prado, Jr. did not graduate high school until he was 21 and had one failed attempt at college. But despite these stumbling blocks the 28-year old remained determined to pursue a college degree.

After losing his job as a project manager in a New York-based construction company during the economic downturn, Roberto Chavez, 42, decided that he needed a college degree to get back into the workforce.

Monica Cimini was 14-years-old when she entered into an arranged marriage in her native Bangladesh and was forced to leave school.  Now, 50-years old and in the United States, she is pursuing the college degree that eluded her for so many years.

When it came time to choose a college the three older adults decided to begin their college experience at LaGuardia Community College’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), a City University of New York initiative funded by the Mayor’s office.

While the majority of the students enrolled in the five-year-old program are traditional college-age students, Dr. Bernard Polnariev, the ASAP Director, said that Efrain, Roberto and Monica are among a growing number of older adults, 23 or older, who have discovered the importance of the program. When ASAP was first launched in the fall of 2007, 18% of the LaGuardia ASAP students were 23 or older.  In the fall of 2010 that number jumped to close to 25%.  And although this year’s fall enrollment figures have not yet been tabulated, he forecasts that this class will exceed last year’s total.

In explaining why the program is luring this special student population, Dr. Polnariev points to a number of features infused in the program. 

The first is an attractive financial package, which includes free tuition, textbooks and a monthly Metrocard. For unemployed adults like Roberto, who view the recession as an opportunity to go back to school but are not able to afford the cost of college tuition, ASAP allows them to follow that course.

“If I had to pay tuition and purchase my books,” said Roberto, a father to two who lost his job in 2009, “I would not have been able to apply to college.  This program is a godsend.”  Roberto is majoring in business administration and plans on transferring to a four-year college when he graduates in 2012.

Another component is a comprehensive network of support services that ensures that the older student, who often times is apprehensive about reentering college after a long hiatus, makes an easier transition.

Students are assigned an advisor who meets with them twice a month to discuss their academic progress as well as personal matters.  “Of course the financial benefits are a real lure, but the academic and career advising component is especially a real plus for our older students,” said Dr. Polnariev.  “The ASAP team work very closely with each other to make sure that there are no cracks in the students’ graduation pathway.”

“Having an advisor is like having your mother guiding you,” said Monica, a liberal arts major who admitted having problems adjusting to college life.  “I didn’t know how to read my class schedule until my advisor showed me.  I do not know if I would be able to succeed without her assistance.”

Before enrolling in ASAP this past fall, Efrain, a business administration major, said he had enrolled as an evening student at another community college but dropped out after a semester because he found the transition to be difficult.   “I did not have any guidance,” he said.  “I knew that resources were available but I just didn’t know where.”

He said that has not been the case at ASAP.  “My advisor guided me through the process.”

Advisors also keep in touch with their students’ professors who provide them with academic progress reports on the students.  “Maintaining communication with faculty members is vital for student success,” said Dr. Polnariev.  “It gives the student another level of appreciation and support.”

Along with advisement, the program offers tutoring, and has on staff a career employment specialist who helps students chart their career direction.

Another feature that caters to older adults who suddenly find themselves juggling academic and personal demands is a flexible class schedule that permits them to take either day or evening classes.  While Efrain takes evening classes so that he can work full-time in construction during the day, Roberto takes classes during the day so that he can help manage his wife’s acupuncture office in the afternoon.

To ensure that older students are ready to tackle the academic demands of the program, ASAP offers freshmen who have remedial needs a summer intensive where they can sharpen their math, reading and or writing skills before beginning their first semester.  Efrain, who entered the program this past fall, said that his math skills were a little stale after being out of school for seven years so he enrolled in the summer remedial math course. 

“I passed and was thrilled,” he said.  “It boosted my confidence.  I am ready to start knocking down those doors.”

                                                                                                 •     •     •     •

LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.