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Will CUNY’s New Math Standards Hurt Minority Admissions?

The chancellor of City University of New York, the nation’s
largest urban public university system, has approved a new standard that may
make it harder for Black and Hispanic students to gain admittance.

Freshman students starting in the fall of 2008 will have to
have a math SAT score 20 to 30 points higher
than the current scores needed for admission to the university’s five top- tier
colleges, Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Hunter and Queens
and 11 senior colleges.

“Back in 1999, CUNY began a series of reforms to raise its
standards in order to increase the value in CUNY degrees…and this is the most
recent development,” said Jay Hershenson, secretary of the board and senior
vice chancellor for University Relations.

Under the new standards, Hershenson said, students must score
510 or better in the math portion of the SAT
or receive a 75 percent or higher in the state Regents Exam, taken in high
school; or pass the CUNY assessment test given to incoming students.

The decision, made early this summer by the university
chancellor Dr. Matthew Goldstein, is the result of several decisions with math
professors who say students are unprepared for college-level work and
administrators and the Board of Trustee.

The move is being widely criticized, including by faculty

“We are as concerned as some of the members of the faculty
that raising the test score requirement will keep out some students who have
decent academic [work ethics], particularly students of color,” said Robert
Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open
Testing. FairTest is a nonprofit organization that works to end the use of
standardized tests.

Schaffer said that the new standard will change the
university’s unique make-up of students from all walks of life and culture and
be a poor reflection of the city’s “ethnic composition.”

“The university system, until in the 1990s, was
access-oriented; it gave students from low-income families a chance at higher
education. In an effort to become a more elite institution, administrators are
closing the door to the next generation of talent,” Schaeffer added.

However, Hershenson said that the new standard was created
to benefit students and help them be more equipped to compete in the “market
place of ideas and careers.”

“Some people say when you raise standards you risk
diversity, but when these reforms were raised in ’99 people said we were going
to lose our minority students but that did not happen,” Hershenson said. “We
are now serving more Black and Hispanic students than we did four decades ago.
When you raise the standards and provide support then the winners are

However, though the enrollment of Blacks in the college
system has increased, Black enrollment in elite colleges within the system has
been static.

The Black student enrollment in Baruch and Hunter colleges,
for example, has declined.

During the 2005-2006 academic year, for example, Black’s
enrollment at Baruch College
fell from 24 percent to 14 percent, and at Hunter
College from 20 percent to 15 percent. See Diverse, Feb.
22, 2007-

Year-round support such as tutoring is available to
students, and students who fail to meet the new math requirement always have to
option of attending other CUNY schools until they can meet the new standard,
Hershenson said.

There are 23 colleges within the CUNY system, which
consists of community colleges, professional and graduate colleges. The student
population is 30 percent Black, 27 percent Hispanic, 16 percent Asian and less
than 1 percent American Indian.

– Margaret Kamara

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