Proposed New York Higher Ed Reforms Said to Benefit Minorities

The New York State Commission on Higher Education recommended to New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer this week a series of reforms and a compact to ensure that the state’s public higher education institutions are properly funded. These recommendations and the compact could significantly improve the education of students of color in New York, educators say.

“By ensuring that the pipeline of students from high school to community colleges, by ensuring that community college courses transfer to baccalaureate-granting colleges, by increasing the numbers of graduate assistantships, by strengthening the faculty by hiring 2,000 new lines, opportunities for students of color will expand,” says Dr. Eduardo Marti, president of Queensborough Community College and one of the members on the commission, the state could improve access to college for minority students. “We must be sure that students of color are aware of the opportunities and take advantage of them,” Marti adds.

The commission advised, in its preliminary report, that Educational Partnership Zones (EPZ) in high-need school districts be developed that would bring the resources of elementary, junior and high schools as well as colleges and universities together to improve student outcomes and the number of students going to college. It further resolved that a College Readiness Act be passed to ensure those high school graduates are prepared for college.

“Any efforts to help increase the preparedness of students will help students of color because they tend to disproportionately be represented in economically disadvantaged areas, where we have poor performing schools,” says Dr. Shirley Robinson Pippins, president of Suffolk County Community College in Long Island, New York. “So investments in these areas will make sure that students come to us and other institutions of higher learning better prepared, having to spend less time in college and less time in remedial or developmental courses.”

The commission recommended that the state provide ongoing (or increase the) support for educational-reentry programs for dropouts and programs for economically and academically disadvantaged students. And, it suggested the strengthening of transfer of academic credits between colleges through the State University of New York and City University of New York systems.

In addition, the commission proposed that the benefits the state provides through its Tuition Assistance Program be enhanced for independent students. Students from families with an income between $40,000 and $60,000 a year would benefit. It also proposed a low-interest, state-subsidized loan program that would be financed through tax-exempt bonds and be available to all the state’s residents who are enrolled full-time in a college or university in New York.

“While people of color are making up more and more of the middle class, people of color still are disproportionately underprivileged,” Marti says. “These loans will help students of color by eliminating the financial barriers that currently prevent students from accessing the university.”

In May, Gov. Spitzer assembled the commission, an influential body of 29 educators, and charged it with finding ways of improving the quality of higher education in New York. It is chaired by Dr. Hunter Rawlings III, President Emeritus of Cornell University. Eight of the 29 educators in the commission are presidents or chancellors of colleges and universities in New York, including Presidents Lee Bollinger (Columbia University) and John Sexton (New York University) and Dr. Nancy Cantor, the chancellor of Syracuse University.

After more than six months of study, the commission also urged the governor to properly fund the system, to hire an additional 2,000 full-time faculty over the next five years, and to establish a $3 billion research fund.

“I look forward to evaluating this report and taking the commission’s recommendations for how my administration can create policies and programs that will make New York’s higher education system second to none into consideration,” Gov. Spitzer says. “Excellence in higher education is a key to our state’s future and the commission’s recommendations will go a long way towards achieving that goal. I expect these recommendations to become part of a continuing dialogue aimed at helping our colleges, universities and students succeed.”

The commission’s final report is due to the governor in June.

“Our new governor has made a commitment to education and has expressed a desire to be seen as the education governor,” Pippens says. “I am confident that he will work to do that and that we will all benefit as a result of his commitment.”

–Ibram Rogers

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