January 19, 2017 | CUNY Matters
More graduates as well as top rankings for social mobility and debt-free education
More graduates, more degrees granted, more high-achieving students, persistent strong enrollments and a shower of prestigious rankings — including two studies identifying The City University of New York as a national exemplar providing social mobility for low-income students — all define the University at the start of 2017.
With nearly 273,000 degree-credit students entering in Fall 2016, CUNY enrollments remain at record and near- record highs, reflecting enduring demand for the University’s high-quality, affordable academic opportunities and the appeal of studying in the nation’s most intellectually and dynamic urban environment. The trends include strong interest from high-achieving students, according to University data: Over the five years from Fall 2012 to Fall 2016, undergraduate enrollment at the highly selective colleges -— Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Hunter and Queens — held steady or posted increases. And Baruch, City and Hunter saw dramatic increases in average entering freshman SAT scores.
This academic year, the University continues to expand and refine programs such as CUNY Start, which improves incoming students’ college readiness skills as they prepare to enter associate degree programs, and ASAP, which has remarkably increased retention and graduation rates at the community colleges.
“CUNY’s fundamental mission of providing affordable, high-quality education is more important now than ever, and the opportunity for so many of our students to graduate debt-free is key to their success after college,” said Chancellor James B. Milliken. “Our students learn from outstanding faculty and compete successfully with students everywhere, and they do this without the financial burden and long-term debt that many of their peers at other institutions incur.
“The combination of low tuition and federal, state and other financial aid programs position many CUNY students to enter the job market or graduate and professional schools with little or no federal debt. This is obviously a great advantage and one that we are committed to maintaining,” the Chancellor said.
Recognition of CUNY colleges’ transformative value for students and the metropolitan area has also come in the form of numerous top rankings and honors.
The Social Mobility Index ranked three CUNY colleges among the country’s top 10 schools for improving low-income students’ educational and job prospects; five others ranked in the top 10 percent. A new study by economists with the Equality of Opportunity Project also highly ranked a number of CUNY colleges for social mobility, and said the University was six times as likely to boost low-income students into the middle class than the nation’s most elite schools.
In other recognitions, City College was cited as the most military-friendly in the nation, and CUNY colleges were also spotlighted in publications including Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and the Wall Street Journal. Three colleges were ranked among the top 10 colleges, out of 300 nationwide, identified by the Student Loan Report as graduating students with the lowest debt; three other CUNY schools were in the top 30.Prestigious academic awards continue to roll in for CUNY students. A 2016 Marshall Scholarship — an academic honor considered on par with the Rhodes Scholarship — was awarded to Hunter College senior Faiza Masood to earn a master’s degree in Great Britain. The University’s positive enrollment trends transcend CUNY’s undergraduate programs.
CUNY School of Law’s Fall 2016 enrollment saw a 27.8 percent increase in the number of first-year students: 193 entered, compared with 151 in 2015.
The jump came as New York State’s 15 law schools posted a flat overall enrollment this year. The number of CUNY graduates — and the number of degrees granted – increased to record levels in 2015-2016. There were 49,457 graduates in 2015-2016 compared with 47,620 the previous year. The number of degrees granted also bumped up, to 50,022 from 48,125 in 2014-2015. The number of baccalaureate degrees awarded to students graduating from CUNY’s five highly selective colleges showed a significant increase from 2010-2011 to 2014-2015.
Graduation rates are also on the upswing. Associate degree three-year graduation rates for first-time, full-time CUNY community college students increased significantly — by 4.2 points — from the 2011 to 2012 freshman cohorts — the largest year-to-year change in 20 years. At the University’s highly selective Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Hunter and Queens colleges, graduation rates also reflected an increase for the fall freshman cohorts from 2005 to 2009.
Among the students entering CUNY colleges, two-thirds are transfers, including those transferring between CUNY schools and a significant number transferring from outside the University. Students transferring to CUNY from other institutions numbered 6,732 in Fall 2015 and included students from a broad swath of public and private colleges in the metropolitan area and out of town, including local St. John’s, Long Island and Hofstra universities, SUNY community colleges and highly selective schools. More than 375 transferred to CUNY from a wide range of selective private institutions, including highly selective University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Brown, Yale, Georgetown, Swarthmore, Tufts, Vassar and New York University.
A CUNY education remains remarkably affordable compared with the cost of public and private higher education in the New York metropolitan area and nationwide. CUNY’s senior college tuition is among the lowest nationally; because so many low-income CUNY students are eligible for full financial aid, their tuition bills are low to nonexistent.
Sixty-five percent of full-time, in-state CUNY undergraduates attend tuition-free due to a combination of federal Pell grants, New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) awards, scholarships and federal tax credits, University data show.
CUNY students also have far less education debt than other students. Eight in 10 students graduating from CUNY colleges carry no federal education debt, while more than 43 million borrowers nationwide hold an estimated $1.3 trillion in debt.
CUNY’s status as one of the country’s top universities for graduating students debt-free was recently affirmed by The Student Loan Report website. It ranked 300 public and private colleges across the country whose graduates had the lowest student debt. Three CUNY schools — Queens, York and Baruch — were in the top 10 of low-debt schools and another three — Brooklyn, City and Lehman — were among the top 30.
Baruch, City and Queens colleges were ranked among the top 10 in the country in educating low-income students and graduating them into solid careers, according to The Social Mobility Index ranking created by CollegeNET, an educational services company that focuses on economic mobility.
The index identifies colleges and universities best at educating students with family incomes below the national median, and at lower tuitions that allow them to graduate into good jobs while burdened with less debt. Baruch took the top spot, City ranked ninth, Queens 10th, and five other CUNY colleges were in the index’s top 10 percent: College of Staten Island (16), Hunter (19), Brooklyn (24), Lehman (65) and John Jay College of Criminal Justice (86).
Three CUNY schools, Baruch, Queens and Hunter, are also ranked among the “best values in public colleges” in the Feb. 2017 Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, which is available online. And Macaulay Honors College was recognized in an unranked Kiplinger’s list of 16 tuition-free colleges. In another recognition last year, Macaulay received the highest rating among public university honors colleges and programs in the book Inside Honors: Ratings and Reviews of Sixty Public University Honors Programs.
Macaulay earned five “mortarboards,” one of just three honors programs in the Northeast, and of 10 nationally, to receive the top rating, posted on publicuniversityhonors.com.
“Receiving the top rating is wonderful recognition for the college as it continues to attract students with the highest academic achievement. Those students benefit greatly from being part of an honors community and continue to excel by winning 200-plus major scholarships, fellowships and awards in the past 15 years,” said William E. Macaulay, chairman of Macaulay’s Foundation Board.
In other notable CUNY college recognitions, City College was lauded as the nation’s most military-friendly campus among public institutions with more than 10,000 students, by Victory Media, which specializes in services for veterans.
It awarded CCNY its Top 10 Gold award for 2017 based on public information and personal data provided by students who are veterans. “Veterans are looking for a hand up, not a hand out,” said Victory Media founder and Chairman Chris Hale, who praised CCNY’s leadership in “creating great opportunities for what I would call our next greatest generation.”
The Wall Street Journal\Times Higher Education survey ranked two colleges as among the top 10 in the city overall and the top two for “providing a learning environment for all students” and attracting a “diverse student body and faculty.” The survey listed Baruch and City colleges among the finest of 27 New York City colleges it analyzed, and the only two public institutions.
The Journal’s website said it used “clear performance indicators” to answer the most important questions facing students: “Does the college have sufficient resources to teach me properly? Will I be engaged, and challenged, by my teacher and classmates? Does the college have a good academic reputation? What type of campus community is there? How likely am I to graduate, pay off my loans and get a good job?”
CUNY students consistently garner prestigious national academic honors including Fulbright awards for teaching and research abroad and National Science Foundation grants. Masood, one of the nation’s 40 recipients of the elite 2016 Marshall Scholarships, is the seventh CUNY student winner in the scholarship’s six decade history.
She will continue her studies in Great Britain to earn a master’s degree in Islamic law focusing on how the religion can adapt to modern societies.
In other student honors, two CUNY School of Law students have been awarded post- graduate fellowships by the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. The third-year students, Annemarie Caruso and Maggie Gribben, were among 30 selected nationwide for the fellowship program, which employs new law graduates in full-time jobs with sponsoring legal advocacy organizations and encourages them to build public service careers. Described as “a legal Peace Corps,” Skadden Fellowships are awarded for two years to law students committed to public interest work. Twelve CUNY Law graduates have served as Skadden Fellows.
Pathways, an initiative begun in fall 2013 to clarify general education course requirements and streamline the transfer process so students can achieve timely graduation, is producing positive results so far. While it is too early to assess the impact on graduation rates, positive Pathways-related results include a 31 percent increase from fall 2012 to fall 2015 in the number of students transferring to CUNY baccalaureate programs with associate degrees; an increase from 62 to 65 in the average total number of credits that transfer students have earned and received credit for; and notably, the courses that students take before transferring are much more likely to count toward their degree.
Before Pathways, 33 percent of CUNY transfer students had at least one course that did not count at their receiving schools. By fall 2015 the percentage was down to 12. Since the Pathways implementation, transfer students’ average GPAs and one-year retention rates have remained stable.
The University is also reforming how it determines college readiness, with a plan to give incoming students the option of satisfying their math requirements with courses that are more appropriate for their majors, such as statistics instead of algebra. Consistent with new math approaches across the country, CUNY proposes to better tailor mathematics sequences to students’ interests and intended studies, for example, requiring algebra mastery for those aiming for STEM or business fields but for others, providing a more appropriate, and still rigorous, math option.
The University’s proposal will increase access to credit courses by eliminating the expensive obstacle of having to take and retake remedial college algebra, and permit students to enroll with academic support if needed, saving them time and money.