Monday, April 16, 2007

CUNY Initiative on Weak Ground

The mayor and CUNY chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, have announced a new initiative to create a Center for Economic Opportunity for the institution's six community colleges. Before anyone examines the program itself, it is imperative for the City Council to bring the leadership of these community colleges in to evaluate the extent to which they are properly constituted to execute the program's mandates.

The idea behind the program is to create a "cohort" to help those students who have to work (which is almost all of them) juggle their myriad responsibilities. As Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs said, "...the cohort model provides a cooperative and supportive environment that makes this possible."

All of which sounds good but overlooks the fact that these colleges, staffed through nepotism and political contracts, are woefully lacking in the staffing ability to effectively manage this initiative. Academic counseling and "mentoring" can't be done well if the student development faculty lacks the requisite education and skill.

Take a look at the credentials in these counseling departments and you will find that, for the most part, the staff doesn't have the proper background to get this job done right, and without the skills, we may end up with a wasteful project that looks good at first blush but ends up peeing money down the drain.

The reason for our concern is that we've had an up close and personal look at one of the community schools and what we have seen is frightening. The utter lack of concern for the students' well-being was palpable and the so-called student retention efforts were a joke. In fact at this school, and we hope that it is not representative of all six, there was a conscious effort to move away from counseling- as in trying to deal with the students' diverse variety of personal issues, and toward simple academic advising. Without the counseling component all of this will fall flat and the money will be wasted.

Which we predict it will unless the City Counsel does the appropriate oversight and insures that the support staffs at the college are properly trained and have the right credentials. What will be required here is a sea change in attitudes: from the Tap and Pell Grant processing mentality that exists now, to the development of a genuine concern for the students themselves.