For Higher Education, Juggle versus Retention
Tuesday's New York Times reports Mayor Bloomberg "Announced a new program intended to make it easier for poor people to attend colleges while holding down jobs." The idea is to support students to graduate from community college. Current graduation rates are about 21percent. The program will be developed at CUNY (City University of New York).
CUNY is a good choice. I know because I'm there everyday working with its students and organizing with students so that more students receiving public assistance can stay in school despite the roadblocks that misguided public policy has put in their way. In the 1980's and 1990's, CUNY multiple programs were developed to support students receiving public assistance, people with incomes below 50% of the poverty line, to attain college degrees. The programs were stunningly successful. Statistic show that almost 90% of the students moved permanently from welfare upon graduation. Those same studies showed that students were graduating at the same rates as the rest of CUNY and rates were much better than 21%.
At the Welfare Rights Initiative, we have incorporated what we know works, what CUNY knows works. Students need support. Our yearlong program connects participants as a cohort and the class forms a learning community that helps all to achieve their goals for the year. WRI helps to place students in internships and work-study right on campus to facilitate working and attending classes. Additionally, we all share with each other the lessons we have learned about registration, designing a class schedule etc.
All of these will be a part of the mayor's program, I am sure. They could be available to all CUNY students. Funding CUNY is a major priority for this city and yet the city has lagged in its funding.
Students trying to move out of poverty through education must be supported. This program is good and needs to be a part of a more comprehensive and vigorous city commitment. Work-study is a federal grant. NYC federal delegation needs to be clear and a solid block in supporting much more money for work-study as well as Pell grants. A great many poor students have children and need child care. NYC needs to expand subsidized childcare to the reach of the middle class and for all those working towards becoming middle class as students in the welfare system are working hard to do. CUNY can accommodate evening, afternoon and morning student schedules with more staff, instructors and professors all around.
Lastly, our commitment to education as a route out of poverty has to include synthesizing all the policies that intersect poverty and education. For example, people receiving welfare are deferred and denied from accessing the education they need. We have to be consistent in our policies and programs for them to work on the scale we need them to work.