Innovative Model Community College On the Launchpad

By Neill S. Rosenfeld

New CCThe University's fresh take on community college education is moving steadily toward the opening of a new campus in the fall of 2012, as leaders from President Obama on down call for two-year colleges to raise graduation rates and train students more effectively to keep America competitive in the global marketplace.

A founding president, six core faculty members and a registrar are refining plans nurtured in a from-scratch rethinking of community college education. The University also has leased space for the new school across from Manhattan's Bryant Park and named a vice chancellor charged with enhancing associate-degree education citywide.

Work on the University's seventh community college began in fall 2007, when Chancellor Matthew Goldstein conceived of a school with a different structure and approach. "The new community college employs an innovative model for improving student performance and graduation rates," he said. "Over the next year, the new college's team will flesh out the concept developed during more than two years of intensive work by faculty and staff from 15 of CUNY's undergraduate and graduate institutions and the central administration. Excitement is building."

Underlining the importance of the two-year degree, the Board of Trustees approved the appointment of Queensborough Community College President Eduardo Marti as the first vice chancellor for community colleges. "Community colleges have taken a front row seat in the national agenda and the CUNY community colleges are well poised to take on a leadership role among this important sector of higher education," he said.

Although CUNY has broken enrollment records as more students sought an education in a sour economy, the goal in creating a new community college was never to provide more space; indeed, it will remain an educational laboratory, starting with 500 students and maxing out at 3,000.

Rather, said John Mogulescu, senior University dean for academic affairs and dean of the School of Professional Studies, the chancellor asked him to determine "whether a new model, nothing like anything presently at CUNY, would deliver better results." He led the broad-based effort to craft a new approach with Tracy Meade, who directs the New Community College Initiative.

The evolving plan captured the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Josiah Macy, Jr., Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose Gateway to the Middle Class plan specifically endorsed the idea.

The University selected Scott E. Evenbeck as founding president after a national search. Evenbeck, who officially takes office in January but already has logged hours of work, is a psychology professor and founding dean of University College at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. Since 1997, University College has served all beginning students in 18 undergraduate schools in that urban public university system, from orientation through entry into a degree program.

"All too often campuses ascribe success to attributes that students bring to the classroom," Evenbeck said after a weeklong meeting with the CUNY planners and the new core faculty in late August. "What's exciting is we're committed to providing a context so that students will be more successful. The planning team looked around CUNY and around the nation to find the structures, the ways of delivering the curriculum, that will make it more likely that students will succeed."

What does the new approach include? Since many community college students need remedial help, they will get it while immediately beginning academic work. It will start during a required summer bridge program for incoming students, which also is designed to encourage students to form supportive social networks. A common first-year curriculum provides twice the normal time for math, along with a signature City Seminar focusing on the complex physical, social, environmental and political realities of New York.

A limited curriculum -- perhaps 10 or 12 majors -- will prepare students for real jobs if they do not continue on to a bachelor's degree. Internships and mentoring will be tied to the majors and to jobs and pathways that can lead to bachelor's and advanced degrees. Students will have to enroll full time for at least the first year, which 80 percent of CUNY freshmen already do, although many later switch to part-time status.

The six core faculty members this fall started with appointments and teaching responsibilities at other CUNY community colleges. They are: assistant professors Caitlin Cahill in urban studies (temporarily based at Kingsborough), Karla Smith Fuller in biology (Borough of Manhattan) and Emily Schnee in English (Kingsborough), as well as associate professors Steven Cosares in information technology (LaGuardia), William Rosenthal in mathematics (LaGuardia) and Naveen Seth in business (Borough of Manhattan).

CUNY's new community college will open in this building at 50 W. 40th St. "A limited curriculum . . . will prepare students for real jobs if they do not continue on to a bachelor's degree. "