Testimony of Arthurine DeSola, Secretary
Professional Staff Congress/CUNY
Before the New York City Council Committees on
Education and Higher Education
January 19, 2012
On behalf of the 25,000 City University of New York (CUNY) faculty and staff represented by the PSC, I wish to begin by thanking education Committee Chair Robert Jackson and Higher Education Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and the other members of the Education and Higher Education Committees for holding this oversight hearing.
The title of this hearing asks: “Are New York City’s Public School Students Adequately Prepared for College?” As a representative of the CUNY faculty and staff and a long-time student adviser at Queensborough Community College, I can tell you from first-hand experience that we must do more, both at the high school and college level, to ensure that the City’s high school graduates succeed at CUNY.
The PSC is proud of the open access mission of CUNY community colleges, and we devote a great deal of our union’s energy and resources toward making sure that CUNY community colleges remain New York’s widest avenue of opportunity for low-income, minority and immigrant students. The deck is stacked against these students in so many ways, it’s no wonder many of them arrive at CUNY with remedial needs.
We recognize and support many of the issues raised here today by students and our colleagues in K-12 education. We join them in demanding that the Department of Education do more. We support CUNY and DOE’s collaboration to share information about how New York City high school graduates perform at CUNY and work toward better alignment of what is demanded of students academically before college. Done well, this effort will help high school juniors and seniors and their teachers, principals and parents prepare to transition to college socially and financially, as well as academically.
Significant efforts must be made to increase the college readiness of current and future public high school students. That much is clear.
But students need greater support and guidance when they get to CUNY community colleges, too. Seventy-four percent of New York City high school graduates who enter CUNY community colleges need to take at least one remedial course. They make up a large share of the 79% of all community college freshmen who need to take at least one remedial course. Many are the first generation in their families to attend college. For close to half, English is not their first language. The remediation needs of CUNY’s students do not differ substantially from those at similar urban, minority-serving institutions. That most require some additional developmental coursework is not surprising.
CUNY community colleges are severely and chronically under-funded, and do not have the resources to provide remedial coursework and other supports – especially intensive counseling and intensive tutoring, as well as access to full-time faculty – to all students who would clearly benefit.
Over the past decade, government financial support has failed to keep pace with dramatic enrollment growth at CUNY’s community colleges, and, in particular, three years of deep cuts to State-funded community college base operating aid have undercut CUNY’s ability to make sure every community college student gets the support they need.
CUNY has piloted several programs over the last four years which demonstrate what is possible if resources are available. The CUNY Start program helps students with the most extensive remedial needs catch up through a semester of intensive study which costs students only $75 and preserves their financial aid eligibility. More instructive of what is needed to ensure that public high school graduates succeed at CUNY is the pilot Accelerated Study in Associate Program (or ASAP). As a pilot, ASAP now includes students who require one or two remedial courses and has boosted the three-year graduation rate for all participants to over 50%.
But ASAP has had $6,500 per FTE student over the basic appropriation provided for all CUNY community college students, which is currently $10,414 (FY 2012). CUNY believes it will be able to take advantage of economies of scale as ASAP expands to 4,000 students to reduce program costs from $6,500 to $3,600 more per FTE student. This extra funding provides for counselors with a caseload of no more than 60 students and a program requiring them to meet with students individually and in groups twice per month; classes with no more than 25 students; specialized individual and group tutoring services; and full-time faculty with enough time to mentor students and coordinate with other instructors so that no student is left behind. (Not to mention, ASAP students also receive tuition waivers, MetroCards, access to books and a laptop without charge, paid internships and other services, which help them afford to attend college full-time.) This hands-on approach where faculty and counselors have the time to mentor and work closely with their students, combined with financial supports that allow students to attend college full-time—and not have to split time between work and school—is showing impressive results.
By contrast, the general student body – including more than 70% of the 90,000 current students who need some remedial courses – must make do with counselors who see over 500 individual students per semester, not counting orientation and other group classes which are also their responsibility. The class-size of remedial classes for the general student body frequently exceeds 25 students, and at least 50% of remedial courses available to the general student body are taught by part-time, contingent faculty – many of whom are teachers with years of experience, but who have very little time to work with individual students. Academic tutoring, access to the library, financial aid counseling, mental health services, and assistance finding jobs and internships are also in very short supply for the majority of community college students.
All students should have access to ASAP-like of resources and services. The City Council should make providing funding equivalent to the ASAP program for all 90,000 students its goal, even if it takes years to achieve. Achieving this goal will require new money from the City and budget restorations and investment from the State so CUNY has the resources it needs to support every student, not just the neediest or the few lucky students who are selected for pilot programs. I can’t tell you what savings the economies of scale would produce, but I guarantee the investment would pay enormous benefits for these students, their families and the city at large.
Yes, this would be expensive, but it would be a game-changing commitment to smaller classes, better teaching environments, student mentorship and intensive counseling. Another CUNY is possible, just as better high school education and college preparation are possible. We need both.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify this afternoon.