June 9, 2017 | Student Affairs

By Emily Tai  

The strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” bring a close to another academic year — and bad news on economic diversity, which has been in decline at the nation’s top public universities, thanks to diminished funding from state and federal government. David Leonhardt reports on the New York Times College Access Index, which measures economic diversity at colleges with a graduation rate of 75%, based upon the number of lower- and middle-income students institutions enroll and the price they charge those students. While  University of California campuses rank highest, even access at these institutions is declining.

CUNY: Missing in action

Only two public universities in New York were listed among this year’s top 170: the State University of New York at Binghamton and SUNY-Geneseo.

Why isn’t CUNY — whose institutions ranked highest in the 2016 Social Mobility Index—listed among the critical institutions in the New York Times College Access index?

Perhaps it has to do with CUNY’s overall graduation rates: While roughly 44% of students on undergraduate campuses of the City University eventually finish a degree—about the national average—most do not do so within the five-year mark recognized as ideal by the College Access Index.

Hurdles in the graduation race

We’re nonetheless wondering if college should really be imagined as a race. Of course, it’s better to earn the degree faster; but if you’re a parent — as over 10% of CUNY students are — or caring for elderly relatives; or working off-campus to pay for your education—or all of the above — a five-year graduation plan may not be realistic. Should the achievements of students who need to move more slowly through college be overlooked?

Medgar Evers commencement speaker Hillary Clinton didn’t appear to think so: “You come from 94 countries, speak 44 different languages,” she told Medgar Evers’s class of 2017, to strong applause. “You embody what makes New York and America great already.”

Nor did Brooklyn College commencement speaker Senator Bernie Sanders. Describing his low-income childhood in Brooklyn, Sanders recalled the many problems his family faced as he was growing up—the same problems many Americans are facing now. He nonetheless called for graduates to “stand together” to fight economic inequality. “Think big, not small,” Sanders told the graduating class of 2017, “and help us create the nation that we all know we can become.”

Adjusting state and federal funding priorities to make an affordable, quality college education available to more Americans can help every student who is ready to “think big” achieve their goals—no matter how long it may take them to graduate.

#collegegraduationrates #parttimestudents #economicdiversity

The UFS Blog would like to extend its congratulations to all the CUNY graduating classes of 2017.

Emily S. Tai is a professor of History at Queensborough Community College who serves on the UFS Executive Committee, and edits the UFS Blog.

The UFS Blog is a forum for CUNY Faculty, and welcomes the expression of all points of view. Send contributions to the editor at etai@qcc.cuny.edu

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Photo credit: Wesley Farnsworth, Air Force marathon, public domain.