Educational Diamond in the Bronx

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With an eye to the large numbers of local young people who do not finish high school and thus find themselves ill-prepared to join the workforce or pursue further schooling, city and town leaders would do well to turn attention to an educational diamond in the Bronx known as CUNY Prep .

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recognized the initial and continuing promise of CUNY Prep with financial support from New York City’s public-private innovation fund, the Center for Economic Opportunity.  The investment has paid off with hundreds of additional young people taking the desired combined steps of passing the GED and enrolling in college.  In addition, CUNY Prep serves as a much-needed model and testing ground for updates of GED programs across the city.

In New York and nationwide, the drive to launch out in a new direction results from these statistics:  Whereas some two-thirds of high school dropouts pass the GED, most by age 25, only five percent of those obtain the postsecondary credential they need to have hopes of obtaining living wage employment.

As a special initiative of the City University of New York, CUNY Prep re-imagines preparation for the GED, often treated as a terminal degree, as the first step in a GED Through College sequence.  As the students say, “CUNY Prep is college prep.”

CUNY Prep has attracted attention from Jobs for the Future (JFF), the Boston-based education and workforce policy and practice organization, as a forerunner example of a three-phase Back on Track to College model with great promise, and some early evidence, for placing those who were once dropouts on a path to receive a postsecondary credential.  The three phases:  enriched preparation, postsecondary bridging, and supports during the first year in college and beyond.  JFF now makes a range of resources available at www.backontrackdesigns.org, including an online self-assessment.

A recent visit to CUNY Prep by representatives of several cities seeking to strengthen postsecondary completion options for dropouts and disconnected youth confirmed the attractiveness of the three-phase model as a potential template for improving local GED provision.  Depending upon local structures, school districts, state or local adult basic education agencies, and community- and faith-based organizations may administer or provide GED instruction.  Ultimately, some or all of these plus community colleges – since some colleges constitute the go-to place for GED, and usually represent the “next step” – will need to get involved in local assessment, planning, and implementation of a new model.  Experience in New York and elsewhere suggests that involving workforce agencies or college offices with a finger on the pulse of job growth sectors solidifies the benefits of GED completion and college studies, in the context of a vocationally-focused career pathway.  As so often in education, city leaders and agencies can play a convening and facilitating role, at minimum.

Notably, with a few years’ experience under its belt, CUNY Prep now operates its own variant of the three-phase model.  In an initial three-month cycle, students prepare to take the GED in classes taught at a college level.  Once they pass the test – often with months to go before the beginning of the semester at one of CUNY’s six community colleges — students enter a College Transition Academy (CTA).   CTA provides classes to start earning credits, as well as catch-up classes to eliminate the need for remediation.  CTA’s director tells students, “give us six months, and we’ll save you $3,000” – the fees students would otherwise pay, or charge against financial aid, for remedial classes.  Upon admission to college, students gain access to the College Success Network, which includes two on-site college success coaches and a job program to support students’ financial needs.   Of the first 100 students benefiting from CTA, nearly half have persisted through the first year of college classes.

NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families will continue reporting on and supporting evolution of new approaches to the GED – an essential activity to pave the way to college and careers for a large segment of the youth population.