September 2010 Issue
August 22, 2010

Affordable college options put on hold

Author: BY Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United

Angela Molfetas' older sister went to CUNY; Angela expects to graduate from CUNY's Hunter College next spring; and up until a few months ago, her family expected her younger brother to continue the CUNY tradition.

Now, Molfetas is unsure of her brother's prospects for a CUNY education, even thought he's a straight-A student.

That's because the City University of New York has imposed the first-ever waiting list for admissions.

Prospective freshmen who applied later than May 7 became the first wait-listed applicants.

As prospective students size up their chances, the odds don't look good. The recession has sent thousands of New Yorkers back to college and thousands more applying to CUNY, as transfer students flee private colleges for the lower-cost public CUNY and State University of New York.

Although SUNY has no waiting lists to enroll, students and faculty there face larger classes and fewer course offerings. Multimillion dollar budget cuts to the system are severely limiting options for students who are already trying to work around an anemic economy, said Phil Smith, president of United University Professions.

Both SUNY and CUNY have experienced record enrollments.

CUNY administrators have said about 260,000 students enrolled between fall 2008 and fall 2009; this spring, 16,137 students applied for transfer to CUNY, compared with 9,093 a year earlier.

Molfetas' brother does not have a scholarship offer from a private college that would cover all of his expenses, so CUNY may be his only chance at college.

"I think the waiting list has a tremendous impact on low-income families," said Molfetas, whose mother was just laid off. "Most families in New York can't afford private colleges."

The situation has created confusion for high school students and their parents. One parent coordinator at a Manhattan high school said many parents believe the waiting list was only a threat.

CUNY is "making a very strong effort not to talk about this as an issue," and it's difficult to even obtain information about the waiting list on the CUNY website, said Lorraine Cohen. The LaGuardia Community College professor is LaGuardia's chapter chair of the Professional Staff Congress.

The PSC represents more than 20,000 CUNY faculty and staff.

CUNY's tradition of "open admissions" — students who applied could be assured of a place in a CUNY college — dates to the late 1960s. A waiting list is a dramatic departure from CUNY's reputation as a college open to all, and one Cohen suspects the administration is not eager to advertise.

Steve London, PSC first vice president, said the waiting list will pull CUNY away from its mission as a university serving the working class of New York City.

With the increase in admissions standards and the end of remediation classes at CUNY's senior colleges, responsibility for carrying out CUNY's open admissions policy will fall more heavily on the CUNY community colleges.

But the waiting list will make it more difficult, or even impossible, for the community colleges to continue open admissions, because those colleges can no longer guarantee a slot for every applicant.

While the waiting list will be felt at all levels, London predicted the greatest change on the community colleges, which to this point had managed largely to avoid the increasingly strict admissions standards of the senior colleges.

"This has to do with the longterm trends of disinvestment by the state," London said. "As enrollment has increased, the ability of CUNY to absorb these students has decreased."

Tami Gold, a professor and PSC chapter chair at Hunter College, said a waiting list harms a basic assumption that public education should be a right, not a privilege.