The Edge: Making the Switch to the CUNY Value

When Diana Howard graduated from a community college in her hometown of Evanston, Ill., she knew she wanted to pursue a social work degree in New York City. So, in early 2011, she enrolled at Long Island University in Brooklyn–and stayed one semester.

“It had become too expensive,” Howard said. “I was paying out of pocket, and I didn’t feel I was getting back what I needed.” With affordability and “the ability to get a well-rounded education” as her criteria, Howard decided to look for a new start to her New York college life.

She found Hunter College, where some 55 percent of graduates are transfer students, reflecting a trend that is redefining CUNY’s senior colleges. Transfer students are surging into the baccalaureate-granting colleges at record-breaking rates, attracted by high-quality academic opportunities, new campus facilities, an extraordinarily diverse student population and an unbeatable value providing nearly six of ten full-time undergraduates a tuition-free education.
Hunter worked for Howard. It had a convenient East Side location: “It’s right there, off the train,” she said. More importantly, it had “affordability, the payoff of being challenged academically and being part of a diverse student body, and access to the faculty. It was a good cost-benefit analysis.”

Hunter does not offer undergraduate social work courses, so Howard decided to “re-plan my educational path.” Still feeling the commitment to a social services-oriented field, she enrolled in the college’s urban studies program. She added a minor in public policy at Hunter’s Roosevelt House, which, she said, has provided her with “invaluable” experiences: a trip to Washington, D.C., and public forums at Roosevelt House “where you can meet and talk to people who are really in the field.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Howard, 29, who expects to graduate in spring 2014 and pursue a master’s in public administration. “Once I have that degree,” she said, “I would like to work with the federal government in the health and human services department.”
Affordability and the right academic fit were also motivating factors for Hiren Desai and Kaitlyn Dougherty, both transfers to Baruch College.

Desai, 23, a Flushing, Queens native, started college at Rutgers University in New Jersey, to be near family. At Rutgers, he was an accounting and criminal justice dual major. But then, “my brother graduated from high school in New Jersey and went to Queensborough, and now Hunter,” Desai said, “and I wanted to be with him.

“He moved, so I moved. Also, I had to take out too many loans [at Rutgers].”

Desai chose Baruch because of its accounting program, transferring in fall 2010. He started full time, but went to part time, partly to prolong his involvement in student government; he serves as treasurer, he said. He graduates this spring.

Like Howard, Desai describes his experience at his CUNY transfer college as “amazing.” At Baruch, he said, “I had friends from high school, so I wasn’t lost right away.” He also joined TEAM Baruch [a student leadership development program], ran orientations and teaches a freshman seminar.

“I found a family at Baruch,” said Desai, who wants to become a forensic accountant or fraud investigator. He is studying for the certified fraud examiner exam and plans to seek a master’s in forensic accounting, although “that’s down the line. I want to work first.”

Kaitlyn Dougherty, also interested in forensic accounting, transferred to Baruch in fall 2012 after earning an associate degree in liberal arts at Orange County (N.Y.) Community College, “the only school in Orange County,” where she was raised. “It was a good place to start and I could transfer once I got through it,” she said.

“My uncle went to Baruch like 30 years ago,” said Dougherty, 20. “I was talking to a career counselor at SUNY Orange and he suggested I apply there to check it out. I also applied to Pace (University), which is very expensive.”

Still, Dougherty said, “I was all set to go to Pace and had picked out classes, but in June I got accepted at Baruch and had to figure which was the better school. I thought Baruch was better for accounting, which is what I wanted to do, and New York is the number one city for accounting, so it’s the place to be.” After her expected graduation in January 2015, “I’ll probably wind up working in the city,” she said.

Baruch has been broadening for Dougherty, who lives in Yonkers. “It’s kind of a culture shock going from Orange County, which is not so diverse, to Baruch, which is so diverse,” she noted.
She has made friends and gotten involved in school activities such as the Italian-American association [her grandparents are from Italy] and the Rising Star program, which helps with career development. She is pledging for Beta Alpha Phi, a business honors society, and is part of the Ernst &Young forensic accounting competition. “A lot of the teachers are really good,” she added.

Diana Howard also enjoys “great relationships with my professors” and said Hunter’s office of student assistance provided “a lot” of help when she was displaced from Brookdale student housing because of Superstorm Sandy.

“I don’t feel any different than if I had been a student who just applied to Hunter, and wasn’t a transfer student,” Howard said. “I’m very, very happy with the decision I made, and more important, the decision Hunter made in accepting me. It’s upward from here.”