Chancellor James B. Milliken announced that a University initiative to increase timely graduation in four-year baccalaureate programs has produced its first graduate – a 19-year-old John Jay College of Criminal Justice student who earned his bachelor’s degree in just two years.
The ACE (Accelerate, Complete and Engage) program is the baccalaureate-level offshoot of CUNY’s highly successful ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs), which has consistently doubled graduation rates at CUNY’s community colleges.
ACE’s first graduate, Piotr Tandek of Staten Island, earned a 2017 B.S. in criminal justice at John Jay and aims to become a New York City police officer when he turns 21. He plans to enter the College of Staten Island this fall to begin studying for a master’s in the history of education, in anticipation of a post-NYPD career as a high school or middle school history teacher.
Chancellor Milliken congratulated Tandek on his “exceptional” achievement, which he said was an indicator that “the rest of his class will finish strong.”
“Although we’re only halfway through our four-year pilot program, ACE’s results so far affirm that our robust approach to helping students graduate on time and preparing them for careers or further study works just as well on the baccalaureate level as it does in community colleges,” the Chancellor said. “This may well serve as the template that other CUNY colleges – and colleges elsewhere – may follow as they seek to improve their degree-completion rates. It will also stand as yet another piece of the extraordinary and important legacy of John Jay College President Jeremy Travis, a leader in our efforts to improve graduation rates.”
Just as ASAP aims to graduate at least half of its students within three years – a goal it has consistently exceeded – ACE, piloted only at John Jay, aims to graduate at least 50 percent of its students within four years and 65 percent within five years. ACE set the 50 percent target for the end of summer in 2019 and the 65 percent target for the end of summer in 2020.
Tandek, the son of Polish immigrants, graduated in two years by marshaling 51 credits toward his baccalaureate degree even before entering John Jay, including 12 Advanced Placement credits earned in high school; nine from taking two proficiency exams, in college algebra and college mathematics; and 12 from taking a Polish proficiency exam. In addition, he earned seven credits by joining the NYPD Police Cadet Corps, which provided the first month of Policy Academy training that also served as his required internship; and he earned two credits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (introduction to animals in distress and introduction to hazardous materials), six from the CUNY School of Professional Studies (physical science) and three for life experience.
Tandek said he wanted to graduate quickly because “I was thinking ahead.” His goals include becoming a police officer at 21, taking the sergeant’s exam and becoming a lieutenant by 30. Why policing? “I want to be proactive,” he said. “I want to show the community that instead of hearing all the negatives we hear about police, that we are here to help you. I’m trying my best to make the community safe.”
Looking further ahead, Tandek said he plans to take the NYPD’s early retirement at 46, after 25 years of service, and then teach history. He intends to remain in New York City.
Tandek said the enhanced advisement and academic and financial support provided by the ACE program gave him “nothing to worry about” that was school-related, “so I could excel in my classes.” He added, “They treat you like family. Without a network, it’s hard to succeed in life.”
ACE provides the same proven system of supporting students as ASAP, including strong, ongoing academic and career development counseling. It offers the same financial support, including free unlimited MetroCards and a $500 textbook voucher each year. Most ACE students attend tuition-free, with a tuition-gap waiver to cover any shortfall for students who receive state TAP and federal Pell grants.
Students also are eligible for winter and summer session scholarships for up to $1,650 to cover tuition and fees (www.jjay.cuny.edu/ace-john-jay). The program requires internships in the junior and senior years and offers 14 majors (www.jjay.cuny.edu/ace-eligible-majors). Students must take at least 15 credits a semester.
The pilot is showing positive results so far. An analysis of Fall 2016 data by CUNY ASAP Research and Evaluation, the University’s internal assessment team for the ACE project, showed the Fall 2015 to Fall 2016 retention rate for the first ACE cohort at John Jay was 83 percent, compared with 78 percent for a matched comparison group of similar John Jay students. Of the students retained, 95 percent were in good academic standing at the end of the Fall 2016 semester, versus 89 percent for the comparison group, with a mean cumulative GPA of 3.07 for ACE students versus 3.03 for the comparison group. Most significantly, a higher percentage of ACE students are on track to four-year graduation, with 71 percent at or above 45 cumulative credits earned, versus 43 percent of the comparison group as of the end of the Fall 2016 semester.
CUNY launched its nationally acclaimed ASAP initiative in 2007 as a pilot, seeking to graduate more than half of its associate degree students within three years, more than double the national rate of about 20 percent. It has consistently met and exceeded that goal.
A study by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Higher Education, found that ASAP provides taxpayers with a big bang for the buck – a return of $3 to $4 for every dollar invested.