The Chancellor’s Desk: Graduation Rates, and Aid, Climbing

July 8, 2012 | CUNY Matters, The University

Attending commencement ceremonies is surely one of the best benefits of being part of a university community. The well-earned joy of our graduates and their families is contagious. I congratulate all of our 2012 graduates, along with the dedicated faculty and staff who have supported them throughout their studies. And I invite our new alumni to stay connected to the CUNY college that has served as a place of reflection for them over the last few years.

By the time the University’s last commencement ceremony comes to a close, we expect that more than 47,000 degrees will have been granted by CUNY this year. This includes nearly 15,000 associate degrees, more than 21,000 baccalaureate degrees, and over 9,000 master’s degrees. Over the last decade, the six-year graduation rate for baccalaureate degrees has increased by more than 12 percentage points. This is a significant rise, one that reflects our consistent efforts to focus on academic proficiency and advancement.

These thousands of new CUNY graduates will be leading the next generation of discovery and growth across our city, state and nation. As President Obama recently noted, “Education is the best investment you can make in your country’s future…. There is no greater predictor of success than higher education.” I am proud that 85 percent of all CUNY graduates from the past 30 years are still living in New York, contributing to the workforce, paying taxes and pursuing additional education.

As part of our continuing effort to ensure graduates’ currency in the job market, I recently appointed a task force to review employment and skills trends in selected industries in New York City. The task force’s final report — see story starting on Page 1 — offers valuable information to CUNY and other institutions of higher education, as well as to students and recent graduates, about employers’ needs and expectations. The report is available at www.cuny.edu/jobstaskforce.

At all of our colleges, innovative work to encourage student progress is making a demonstrable difference in learning and persistence. For example, preliminary data on the 2009 cohort participating in the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative — which comprises students who required some remediation — projects a three-year graduation rate of 53 percent for participants, compared to a projected 22 percent rate for a similar, non-ASAP group of students. Given ASAP’s effectiveness in helping students reach their academic goals, we plan to expand the initiative from its current 1,300 participants to 4,000 students by 2014.

I am grateful to faculty, students, staff and administrators across the University who continue to develop and refine a range of ways to strengthen students’ engagement and success.

College commencements also prompt an increased focus on higher education, particularly this year. As a May 28 piece in The New Yorker put it, “This graduation season, the national conversation seems to be going into apocalypse mode about the cost of higher education.”

At CUNY, college costs are not a seasonal consideration (nor a sign of the apocalypse); keeping tuition low and predictable is a constant priority at the University. The CUNY Compact — a funding partnership among the University, government, alumni, donors and students — was developed to ensure stable funding for CUNY without overburdening students. New York State’s approval of the compact’s framework, including the passage of a predictable tuition policy in 2011, keeps tuition low, maintains financial aid coverage, and enables families to plan for educational costs.

Well over half of CUNY’s undergraduates qualify for federal and state aid, including need-based Pell grants and New York State Tuition Assistance Program awards. This aid allows more than 58 percent of full-time undergraduates — about 100,000 students — to attend CUNY tuition free. In addition, because the University’s tuition is considerably below the national average for both public and private colleges and universities, fewer CUNY students take out loans to help pay for tuition. Those CUNY students who do borrow for their education owe less on average at graduation than their peers at public and private colleges and universities in New York.

This is the true “CUNY value” — a commitment to ensuring that the University will continue to offer an affordable, accessible, and exceptional education. When talented and ambitious students have access to the best educational opportunities, the promise of public higher education — a stronger, more vibrant society — can ultimately be fulfilled.

Matthew Goldstein