About 72 percent of students in New York City’s public high schools are black and Latino. Yet they comprise less than 30 percent of students at CUNY’s top-tier colleges. These colleges are part of a public university system with a mission of providing access and academic excellence to local students.
CUNY’s mission statement reads in part: “The Board of Trustees continues to recognize the imperative need for affirmative action” in order to “maintain at each campus equal access and opportunity.”
CUNY has been the pathway to higher education for generations of students who could never afford to pay for a private college education. This is especially true for New York’s black and Latino young people. CUNY has provided the education that has helped to ensure economic opportunities for tens of thousands of New Yorkers.
But for years, there has been a serious disconnect between the percentage of students of color at Baruch, Hunter, Brooklyn, Queens, and City College – the top tier of CUNY colleges, and students of color in our public high schools. And the numbers have recently gotten worse.
While the recession has brought an increase in applications to CUNY colleges, its top colleges saw a drop in the numbers of black and Latino freshmen. As more students applied to CUNY, its senior colleges raised their SAT requirements and began to enroll fewer students. By 2010, only one in ten freshmen entering the system’s top-tiered four year colleges were black. Baruch’s freshman class has about the same percentage of African Americans as Harvard.
The use of SAT scores to determine entrance to CUNY colleges is in contrast to the admissions policies of the top rated universities in the nation, which admit students based on a number of factors.
Many applicants are being shunted off to CUNY’s community colleges, the orphans of the system. Underfunded and ignored, these colleges have a poor record – only 10 percent of students entering a community college graduates with a degree in four years.
The recession hit the city’s black and Latino communities harder than other segments of the population. The unemployment rate for blacks and Latinos increased far more than for whites or Asians. Now student from these communities are also losing the chance of enrolling in CUNY senior colleges.
In June, James B. Milliken, president of the University of Nebraska since 2004, will become chancellor of the CUNY system. He is already on record as believing that CUNY should be providing an education for those who otherwise would not have that opportunity.
With a new administration in City Hall and a new chancellor coming to CUNY, we have an opportunity to examine the recent drop in black and Latino students at CUNY’s most highly rated four year colleges. Mayor de Blasio, who highlights the economic inequality in our city, should work with Mr. Milliken to devise an admissions procedure that is fair and efficient.
City Council members should also be insisting on changes in CUNY admissions policies. The young people and the communities being affected by CUNY admissions policies are their constituencies.
The diversity of our population is one of New York City’s great strengths. And CUNY”s success is crucial to the livelihood of the city, which requires an educated workforce to fill the needs of our labor market. CUNY should reflect our diversity and not move toward a two or three tiered system with most students of color occupying a lower rung, where they either receive a subpar education or drop out before finishing their degree.