Letter: Fresh thinking can help 700K New Yorkers finally earn their degrees

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A CUNY initiative aimed at re-enrolling students who dropped out or left college with credits, has brought back 14,000 students.
Photo courtesy CUNY

To the Editor,

As an educator and administrator who has devoted my professional career to expanding access to education, especially among historically underserved communities, I want to commend the City University of New York (CUNY) and the City Council on re-enrolling more than 14,000 students as a part of the CUNY Reconnect program, which was reported on in the article “Back to school: 21% of CUNY’s re-enrolled students from the Bronx.”

This initiative is an important step in promoting equity and helping people achieve life-altering credentials. But there remains significant work we as educators must do to address the remaining 680,000-plus New Yorkers who have earned some college credit but don’t yet have a degree.

The Center for an Urban Future published a study identifying three major burdens facing potential adult learners: financial aid, pre-enrollment counseling and flexible scheduling. To ease these strains, we need to bring fresh solutions to the table — ideas that complement the excellent public and private institutions already serving New York City.

One relatively new approach that works is online, accredited competency-based education. Rather than advancing only when the semester ends, a student in this model can progress as soon as they’ve proven mastery of the material. Additionally, six-month flat-rate tuition eases the financial burden of the credit-hour tuition model. This approach is well-suited for adult learners who have time-consuming work or caregiving responsibilities that make it impossible to commute to — and afford — an on-campus school.

Re-enrollment initiatives and the growth of innovative online degree programs, offered by nonprofit institutions, represent important steps in bringing higher education to more New Yorkers. All options should be on the table for working-age adults seeking to improve their lives through education.

Rebecca Watts,
Regional vice president, Northeast, Western Governors University