Which programs effectively increase graduation rates for CUNY students?


In 2019, we provided major support to fund strategic partnerships fueling the growth of America Needs You (ANY), which offers intensive career development and leadership training that enables high-potential, low-income, first-generation college students to persist in college, earn a degree, and secure a meaningful job. In New York, ANY serves CUNY students, one-third of whom start out at a two-year college, because they have been identified as having the highest need for intervention. We funded strategic partnerships between ANY and two CUNY campuses: LaGuardia Community College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. This partnership enables ANY to operate under a cost-sharing model where it pays 80% of expenses while the campuses pay 20% plus provide resources that include workshop spaces and on-campus desks where ANY staff can provide convenient support to fellows. To ensure year-over-year persistence and bachelor’s degree completion, ANY supports students as they transition from two- to four-year colleges and throughout their college career—and it has achieved results that position it as the most effective model for college-completion programs for CUNY students. Of the ANY fellows enrolled in community colleges, 87% transferred to four-year universities; 94% of alumni have graduated within six years; and 92% have secured jobs or have enrolled full-time in graduate school. In comparison, CUNY’s three-year graduation rate for community colleges is 22% and its six-year graduation rate for senior colleges is 55%.

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) is the largest community college in the CUNY system with 27,000 degree-seeking students but with a three-year graduation rate of only 22%. In 2019, we committed to doubling the size of BMCC’s IMPACT Peer Mentoring program because assessments conducted by BMCC’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Analytics show that it produces consistently higher retention and graduation rates for both mentors and mentees as compared with similarly-situated students not affiliated with the program. IMPACT pairs upperclassmen peer mentors with first-semester students. They meet in person once a week and maintain regular contact several times a week, focusing on role modeling, community building, success coaching, campus resources, and advocacy. For the most recent cohort, IMPACT mentees had a three-year graduation rate of 30% compared with 19% for similar students not in the program as well as higher credit accumulation numbers in each semester tracked before graduation (e.g. 11.9 credits in the second-year spring term, compared with 6.9 credits for similar students).

In 2019, we also continued to fund The College Completion Innovation Fund through Graduate NYC with the goal of fostering collaboration among foundations in the college access and persistence space. The Fund aims to significantly increase college graduation rates throughout the five boroughs by harnessing the collective expertise and impact of a wide range of philanthropic and educational organizations. The Fund makes grants to support undergraduate colleges and nonprofit community-based organizations in implementing innovative programs that address the graduation challenges faced by underrepresented student populations. In addition to its role in catalyzing innovation and expanding successful practices, the Fund also provides professional development and technical assistance to its grantees and facilitates ongoing dialogue related to increasing degree attainment in New York City. The Fund seeks to promote effective practices that have proven successful in local contexts—ones that may be scaled in other locations across the city—via its partnership with the NYC Department of Education and CUNY. Through four award cycles (we participated in two), the Fund has invested $3M to support 16 pilot initiatives and provide the organizations implementing them with ongoing professional development. Projects have included improving the transfer pipeline from two-year to four-year colleges (both Bottom Line and Cypress Hills increased successful transfers through respective projects), developing a mobile application to make advising resources and information more accessible to students (LaGuardia Community College), and supporting a program to acclimate transfer and underrepresented minority students in the school’s elementary education program to increase chances of on-time degree completion (Queens College).

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