25 DE FEBRERO 2021 • 9
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It has been an extraordinarily difficult
year for New Yorkers, including the 270,000
students enrolled every year in the City University
of New York. In the last 12 months, our
students have weathered a global pandemic,
suffered the loss of loved ones and withstood
economic hardships, all while transitioning
to remote learning — a daunting and at times
overwhelming experience, especially for students
juggling multiple responsibilities — as
they tried to hold onto their academic dreams.
Despite their perseverance — the University
awarded 56,527 diplomas last year, the
second-highest total in our history — our current
students, and high school seniors who will
soon be CUNY students, will need additional
support to succeed after this once-in-a-lifetime
experience and nearly a year and half of distance
learning. CUNY has been building on existing
and new student-support programs and
partnerships to help students navigate a classroom
experience that has been upended by the
CUNY students who participated in focus
groups after the Spring 2020 semester described
how the change in their learning environments
from campus to home impacted their focus and
motivation, making it difficult for them to be
as productive at home as they were on campus.
The feedback, obtained in partnership with
independent non-profit research group Ithaka
S+R, suggested colleges could improve remote
learning for students by — among other steps
— making a concerted push to increase professional
development for faculty in online instruction.
In response, CUNY’s School of Professional
Studies created an award-winning
series of workshops in online instruction that
drew 3,400 faculty members.
Other existing support programs were
quickly adjusted to a distance-learning environment.
One of those, CUNY Edge, targets
students who receive public benefits. Supports
such as virtual “walk-in hours” provide a platform
for students to ask questions and request
assistance without having to wait for an appointment.
It’s also a way of building community
for our students in a time of increasing social
isolation. CUNY ASAP and ACE, programs
that provide wraparound support to ensure
timely graduation, maintained their engagement
with nearly 100 percent of students via
Zoom, email and telephone, sustaining the high
contact rates of semesters when students were
on campus. Similarly, we have intensified our
campaign to provide students with step-by-step
virtual support as they file for financial aid.
And the payoff is clear: the number of CUNY
students submitting a FAFSA application is on
the rise, bucking the national trend.
We also redoubled efforts to make sure students
graduating from city public schools continue
on to college. We expanded the reach of
CUNY Tutor Corps, a successful program in
which CUNY students mentor middle and high
school students from the NYC Department
of Education (DOE). CUNY and the DOE are
working with the City’s Young Men’s Initiative
to hire an additional 50 diverse mentors. That
means 10,600 public school students in all five
boroughs will have access to 350 CUNY students
to support their needs.
The pandemic exposed the systemic injustice
of long-standing social and economic inequities,
conditions that so many CUNY students
— 80 percent of whom are either Black, Latino
or Asian — struggle to overcome even in the
best of times. Students derive greater benefit
from mentors who can address their linguistic
and cultural needs, as well as their educational
ones. Because they are students themselves,
CUNY mentors can speak from the perspective
of personal experience.
As Nataly Toro, a John Jay senior and Tutor
Corps mentor says: “It’s important for students
to hear from current college students like
myself because it lets them know they are not
alone. We were high school students not too
long ago; we can relate.”
Another new program, the Application Advisors
Initiative, is enabling CUNY to support
7,000 New York City high school graduating seniors.
Working under the supervision of high
school counseling staff from February through
May, CUNY students will ensure that seniors
complete their college applications, file for financial
aid and complete all of the requisite paperwork,
as they transition to college.
We also recently launched CUNY Winter
Bridge, a new program to re-engage seniors
who committed to a CUNY college last fall but
for a variety of reasons never matriculated.
An outgrowth of our College Bridge for All
program, which helped support 57,000 DOE
high school seniors thanks to a $1.1 million
grant from both Bloomberg Philanthropies
and the Petrie Foundation, Winter Bridge college
coaches reached out to 8,000 recent DOE
graduates by Zoom, email and text, starting
last December, to guide them through the full
enrollment process. I’m happy to say 1,000 of
those students were already participating in
one of our transition programs such as CUNY
Start/Math Start, or polishing their English
language skills in our CUNY Language Immersion
These are just some of the ways that CUNY
is making sure the pandemic doesn’t erase
the progress we have made. As I’ve said many
times, CUNY is an integral New York institution.
By helping CUNY students, current and
future, obtain a college education and learn the
skills they need to succeed in the job market,
we are helping our beloved city to rebuild, and
planting the seeds for its steady rebound.
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