CUNY Baccalaureate Program Nurtures Multi-Campus Collaborations

Sometimes the faculty takes lessons from the student body. Consider the CUNY Baccalaureate Program: Students have long appreciated its flexibility, which permits them to use the entire University’s vast resources to craft a course of study. Lately, members of the faculty have used that same flexibility to create innovative degree programs that span several of CUNY’s 19 campuses.

Professor Leon Johnson, left, with Phil Sakimoto, NASA program manager with the Administrationís Office of Space Science Minority Education.
One such is the Baccalaureate Degree in Space Science, created by a group of CUNY faculty led by Dr. Leon P. Johnson, professor and chair of physical, environmental and computer sciences at Medgar Evers College. The program, funded in part by NASA’s Office of Space Science, offers courses at five campuses, the Hayden Planetarium, and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. For further flexibility, students may take the core liberal arts courses at any CUNY college.

To be sure, there have always been cross-campus, faculty-created study programs under the CUNY Baccalaureate umbrella. For instance, the
disability studies program has been awarding degrees through the baccalaureate program for more than a decade.

“I frequently get requests from employers for smart, energetic, capable new college graduates. I often turn to my CUNY BA/BS students as great possibilities.”
– Professor Nancy Romer Brooklyn College
But in the past few years, faculty initiative has blossomed. In addition to Johnson’s space science program, Prof. Richard Hanley of the liberal arts department at the New York City College of Technology is crafting a degree program in community development and technology through the CUNY Bacca- laureate. Another new baccalaureate program, created by Prof. James Cohen of John Jay’s public management and administration department, is one of few in the nation offering a degree in transportation management.

Students may take relevant courses at any of the University’s undergraduate
colleges. Similar multi-campus programs exist for other degrees; they are outlined on the program’s website,

“There has been more of a movement in the direction of faculty-initiated programs,” said Beth Kneller, the CUNY Baccalaureate Program’s deputy director. Another program—set to begin next spring and spear-headed at Hostos Community College by Provost Daisy De Filippis—will be devoted to Dominican studies. A program on Middle Eastern studies is in the early stages of organization.

Johnson credited CUNY BA/BS for the success of the space science program. “I don’t know how it could have happened without the Baccalaureate Program,” he says. “When I give presentations outside CUNY, people are just amazed at the CUNY BA/BS program; they think it’s marvelous.” Indeed, Johnson credits the program as the clincher for NASA’s $750,000 grant in support of the degree. “I think the fact that all this was within one city was what got us funded.”

Space science courses are offered at Medgar Evers, CSI, CCNY, Hunter, and York Colleges. Each college contributes participating faculty, as did Queensborough, Hostos and LaGuardia Community Colleges.

Hanley, the founding editor of the Journal of Urban Technology and a member of the CUNY Institute for Urban Systems, realized a few years ago that technology was becoming prominent in the work being done by community development organizations. His first thought was to create a program at his home college, but “it wasn’t a neat fit for my college,” he said. “Because it’s cross-disciplinary, because the kind of subjects students would need to take were scattered through different campuses, it became clear that the CUNY BA/BS was the way to go.”

The CUNY Baccalaureate Program, established in 1971, is popular with returning students with some experience of the world outside the classroom—particularly because it offers the possibility of earning credit for life experience. It allows students to design a course of study—under a faculty mentor’s guidance—and then “cherry-pick” the most relevant courses in the entire CUNY system, including the Graduate Center.

Each year, 700 students enroll in the program, which has a graduation rate of 72%. Half graduate with honors. Further, more than 45% of the graduates have gone on to earn Master’s degrees and 12% have earned doctorates.

This year’s graduates have earned degrees in cinema studies, ethnic and cultural U.S. history, medieval archaeology, classical and Near Eastern antiquity, music management, and applied holistic science, as well as economics, business administration, mathematics, and theater.

Faculty mentors often help start careers, too. “I frequently get requests from employers for smart, energetic, capable new college graduates,” says Nancy Romer, professor of psychology at Brooklyn College. “I often turn to my CUNY BA/BS students as great possibilities.”


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