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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Keep ‘American dream machine’ running

My grandfather, who came to the U.S. as a boy round about 1900 — one of those huddled masses sailing past the Statue of Liberty — went to City College of New York for a semester or two before quitting to start a candy business. It failed. But his second try was a success. (His big product was malted-milk balls, the kind that now come in milk cartons. He patented the process for aerating malt, making him, in my mother’s words, “the inventor of the modern malted-milk ball.”)

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Andy Grove, an immigrant from Hungary who went on to co-found Intel, also went to CCNY, which he called “the American dream machine.”

City College and the City University of New York (CUNY) system — 11 four-year colleges and seven community colleges — continue to be a powerful engine of upward mobility, writes Charles Sahm of the Manhattan Institute.

Stanford’s Raj Chetty gives CUNY high marks for helping students move from the bottom to the top quintile in The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility. Other high-mobility colleges are: Cal State Los Angeles, Pace University (New York), SUNY Stony Brook (New York), and the for-profit Technical Career Institutes (New York). These schools are not highly selective or expensive.  (This New York Times interactive shows the mobility ratings.)

Success rates are very high for low-income students who qualify for “Ivy Plus” colleges, but very few students at elite colleges come from low-quintile families. Flagship state universities have low mobility ratings: They don’t enroll many poor students and don’t always get them to a degree and higher earning power.

Overall, few low-income students go to private colleges (too pricey) and fewer are enrolling in state universities, the study found.

At CUNY, the share fell from 30.4 percent in 2000 to 23.3 percent in 2011.

Completion rates are low, even at high-mobility colleges, Sahm notes. :Only 18 percent of CUNY students complete a two-year degree in three years; 55 percent complete a four-year degree in six years.

However, success rates are rising, in part due to CUNY Start and the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), writes Sahm.

CUNY Start, which was launched in 2009 to provide intensive remediation to poorly prepared students, is getting students to basic proficiency in one semester at a much higher rate than traditional remediation.

Started in 2007, ASAP helps low-income students who agree to study full-time overcome barriers in their progress toward timely degree completion. The program provides financial support with free MetroCards, textbook vouchers worth $500, and consolidated scheduling to help students balance jobs, family, and school. . . . A key ASAP service is its “intrusive and mandatory advisement model.” Students get assigned one advisor from entry through graduation. Advisors have a maximum caseload of 150 students, far fewer than at most colleges, and help students map out a structured degree pathway and monitor their progress.

ASAP doubles graduation rates, research has shown. It costs more per student, but less per graduate.

“Given the low-income status of many CUNY students—half have household income under $30,000—ASAP could be viewed as one of the city’s most effective antipoverty programs,” writes Sahm.

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