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New CUNY campus still a dream

Admissions interviews, full-time enrollment and a four- to six-week summer orientation are all part of a proposal for a new community college by the City University of New York. But in the current economy, there is a lack of funding for the initiative.

According to a 120-page concept paper released in August 2008, the new campus should yield higher graduation rates and students better prepared for employment. Currently, only 11 percent of students enrolled at CUNY's six community colleges graduate within three years. And the system is currently facing its highest enrollment in 30 years, said Michael Arena, university director of communications and marketing for CUNY.

The new CUNY college will have an enrollment around 5,000 students and a curriculum that requires students to enroll full-time in a limited number of programs that incorporate the theme of "creating and sustaining a thriving New York City," according to the concept paper.

Unlike other community colleges, the new school will require admissions interviews. But unlike most four-year universities, these interviews will not be used to disqualify applicants - they are to educate the applicant about the program.

"Open access should not be uninformed access," read the concept paper.

The proposal for the school is a "worthy cause," said George Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, an advocacy organization. Boggs said he supports any initiative that will improve the nation's community colleges.

Boggs said he was not ready to accept the concept of the new community college as a full solution to the problems faced by community colleges. Likewise, CUNY's concept paper warns against using the school as a "one-size-fits-all model for community colleges."

"There are problems of scalability," Boggs said, adding that nationwide, the majority of community college students study part-time, and it would be unreasonable to require students to enroll full-time.

"Many students have jobs and cannot be full-time students," Boggs said.

The idea for the college is based on the Accelerated Study in Associate Program, which was created by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a way to improve graduation rates of community college students. The 1,132 students who currently participate in ASAP have higher grade-point averages and more credits than students not enrolled in the program, according to a January New York Times article. CUNY hopes to duplicate this success at the new community college, the Times reported.

But Arena said that while there is interest for the school, there is currently no funding.

Meanwhile, money for ASAP is disappearing. The program was funded with a one-time appropriation that was not guaranteed to be renewed, Arena said. He added that he hopes students' graduation from ASAP will show its success and lead to continued funding.

Students in ASAP currently receive free textbooks and MetroCards, an initiative CUNY hopes to match at the new community college, the Times reported, but Arena declined to comment on the likelihood of such benefits.


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