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NYC Community College Program Puts Emphasis on Graduation


Juanita Rivera has been in and out of community colleges so many times over the past 25 years that the thought of obtaining an associate degree seems very unlikely.

“Each time that I started I had the intention of finishing,” says Rivera, 50, who has often been forced to cut her education short to find a second and sometimes third part-time job. “Someone would look at me and probably think that I don’t want to finish, but I really do. It’s just extremely hard.”

Rivera, a mother of four, is just the kind of student that the New York City says it wants to help. In his annual “State of the City” address, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced that the city would spend $20 million over three years to fund a new City University of New York program aimed at helping students in community colleges graduate and find jobs. 

Bloomberg said the bold new initiative, called Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, or ASAP, will begin in September at six community colleges. About 1,000 high school seniors and working poor adults will be enrolled in the new program.

“CUNY ASAP is designed to provide New York City with the educated work force that it must have in order to stay competitive with cities around the world,” said Bloomberg. “As far as we know, no community college system anywhere has attempted this approach. But every successful business offers services that reflect customers’ needs and so should government.”

According to CUNY officials, the degrees that students pursue in the ASAP program will be related to their future employment interests, and their classes will be divided into morning, afternoon and evening tracks. Officials say that by structuring the program in this way, students will receive greater mentoring and educational support and will be able to maintain their studies while working at job in their related field.

Selected students will also participate in pre-college orientation during the summer and will be assigned to faculty advisors. In exchange, they will be placed at various job sites with the promise that they will complete the requirements for their degree in three to four years. The $20 million initiative includes tuition assistance for students and the hiring of additional staff to expand course offerings.

“Right now, the demands of their jobs prevent far too many of them from completing their studies, and without degrees they often remain among our working poor,” said Bloomberg.

Nationally, only 24 percent of students like Rivera graduate within six years of enrolling at a community college, according to a recent report released by Columbia University’s Community College Research Center. CUNY officials say they are hopeful that 50 percent of ASAP students will graduate within three years and 75 percent will graduate within four years.

Rivera, who hopes to re-enroll at Hostos Community College after being away for the past two years, says the mayor’s new program would enable her to finally finish her degree.

“Getting a college degree is always something that I wanted to do,” says Rivera, who wants to become a dental assistant. “I’ve been sidetracked quite a bit because of other circumstances, but I have never stopped believing that I can achieve this goal and I know that one day I will.” 

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