By Margaret Ramirez
AFTER BEING ACCEPTED to Kingsborough Community College in 2011, Mushfica Masud was depressed to receive a class schedule filled with remedial courses.
But two years later, Masud boasted a 4.0 GPA, made the dean’s list, and was recently awarded a scholarship for academic excellence.
In between her studies, Masud now squeezes in time for her show at the campus radio station where she is known as “DJ M+M.”
Masud credits her success to CUNY Start, an academic preparation program for students who have been accepted to college but need additional instruction in writing, reading and/or math.
“When I entered college, I was so afraid. I thought, I’m going to fail each and every class,” says Masud, 26, who is majoring in Media Technology and Management, “so I took CUNY Start. I think that was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Since 2009, when CUNY Start began, nearly 2,000 students have enrolled in the program, which provides new University students with an intensive semester of reading, writing and math to prepare for college-level coursework. CUNY Start serves as an alternative to traditional remedial courses usually taken in combination with college-credit courses.
The unique program is designed for underprepared high school and GED graduates who have been admitted to a CUNY college, yet scored poorly on CUNY Assessment Tests. Learning from an innovative curriculum and dedicated instructors, CUNY Start students showed significant academic improvement and increased confidence.
Upon entering the program, about 61 percent of CUNY Start full-time students required remedial instruction in reading, writing and math. By the end of the program, some 46 percent were proficient in all three subjects.
After CUNY Start ended and students matriculated in college, they continued to excel, earning more credits and higher GPAs than other students who required remediation.
Because of the program’s dramatic success, plans are under way to expand CUNY Start from 1,900 students this year to 4,000 students by June 2014.
CUNY Start’s growth comes as educators across the nation grapple with the rising number of college students requiring remedial or developmental education. Currently, half of all undergraduates and 70 percent of community college students take at least one remedial course, according to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
More troubling is growing evidence that shows traditional remedial college courses are ineffective in meeting the needs of unprepared college students. A 2009 report on developmental education found that only a quarter of community college students who took a remedial course graduated within eight years.
Mia Simon, University director of CUNY Start, attributed the success of the program to its intensive approach that requires 25 hours a week of study. A part-time CUNY Start program with 12 hours a week of afternoon and evening classes is also offered at LaGuardia Community College, Borough of Manhattan Community College and Hostos Community College.
“In one semester, students in CUNY Start are able to address multiple remedial needs, which could take years to complete if they were to enter a traditional remedial track,” Simon says.
Another essential part of CUNY Start is the advisement component where students meet weekly to talk about progress and other issues.
“The advisement component supports students’ abilities to better manage their time, understand the expectations in college, choose courses … and overall be better prepared for what they will need to do and prepare for once in college,” she says.
Masud was so grateful for the help she received from CUNY Start that she began volunteering for the program by leading campus tours during student orientation.
“It feels great. Getting the scholarship, the honors,” Masud says. “Definitely, CUNY Start prepared me for all this.”