January 2, 2018 | Academic Affairs

By Emily TaiSunrise behind the Statue of Liberty

Perhaps, once our grading was finished last week, faculty finally had time to read the paper—or not read the paper, as some of us may have preferred.  If it was the latter, here are a few things you might have missed:
Frank Bruni, lamenting 2017 as Higher Ed’s Low Moment, when a survey by the Pew Charitable Trust showed that voters with Republican leanings tend to have negative views of colleges and universities—although most college graduates among them are positive about their own college experience;

Gina Bellafonte, citing a recent study by the Center for an Urban Future, indicating “alarmingly low” graduation rates in CUNY’s 2- and 4-year colleges—with only 22% of students enrolled in Associates degree programs finishing within three years; and only 55% of students at the four-year institutions completing a baccalaureate within twice that time.

When we consider what the Center for an Urban Future terms “degrees of difficulty,” however, perhaps we should factor in the obstacles CUNY students may face, such as housing and food insecurity.  In this regard, CUNY leaders have emerged as advocates for conditions that would lift the bar for many potential students—as, for example, Ann Jacobs, Director of John Jay’s Prisoner Reentry Institute, who was quoted in an article detailing local opposition to the opening of Hope House, a new residential facility for women returning from prison.  Hope House’s founders are two graduates of the Bedford Hills College-in-Prison program at Taconic Correctional Facility (founded by former Kingsborough Community College President Regina Peruggi).  CUNY faculty, at John Jay’s Prisoner Reentry Institute, and elsewhere, have, of course, blazed a trail in offering support to students with experience in the criminal justice system, both during, and after, incarceration.  Faculty at CUNY’s School of Public Health have also spearheaded initiatives, like the CUNY Food Collaboratory, to assist students struggling with financial difficulties that work against college success.  And let’s not forget CUNY’s nationally acclaimed program, ASAP, which showed that students could complete their associates and even baccalaureate programs faster, when given adequate institutional support.

Perhaps, in trying to solve Higher Education’s image problem, the elite colleges—who are said to significantly underserve first-generation college students—should be looking to CUNY as an example of best practice in the new year.

Emily S. Tai is an associate professor of History at Queensborough Community College.

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Photo: pxhere, CCO