The City University of New York was not always the complex beaurocratic giant it is today. CUNY finds it’s roots on 138th Street in Manhattan, at what is now known as The City College of New York, but one school in a network of campus’ that form CUNY. Originally CUNY was but one school, with an ambitious dream of providing education to more of New York’s burgeoning population. The Free Academy was founded in 1847. It opened with a mission to provide education for all who wanted it. Soon after, the city recognized the importance of such a school, and the Free Academy became the City College.
CUNY’s gates to higher learning can be found in any of the five boroughs, making it accessible to everyone living in or around New York City. At first most Free Academites lived in the borough of Manhattan, it was not until the opening of the Interborough Rapid Transit system that the Free Academy could be accessible to students outside Manhattan. Soon after the Free Academy had its metamorphosis, other schools began to join the City College. Hunter College was the first to join this system, when in 1870 it became a part of CCNY. In 1961, soon after the addition of Queensborough Community College in 1958, the many schools comprising the City College were merged into The City University of New York. CUNY continued to further its reach across New York City with the additions of new schools until 1967, when the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine joined forces with CUNY. The City University now has ten senior colleges, six community colleges, a technical school, and three graduate schools. CUNY has grown a bit since the days of the original Free Academy. Finding students to fill the many halls of CUNY has never been a problem. Today CUNY has close to 200,000 students in its enrollment. Many times more than the original few hundred capable of being handled by the Free Academy.
In 1970 the City University began the “Open Admissions” policy that allowed access to every person in New York that had a high school degree, or equivalent making CUNY even more accessible to New Yorkers, than it already was. This policy has been the subject of much debate over the years, sometimes evoking heated emotions from CUNY alumni aswell as New Yorkers like Heather Mac Donald, who believe the policy is bringing the school down, “faced with students who can’t write a coherent sentence or follow cause and effect reasoning, CUNY’s professors have changed the content and grading standards of their courses.” All things must keep up with the times, and CUNY is no exception. Seeing the need to keep CUNY available to all, and not the few, there were some changes at the City University.
CUNY’s student body is the most ethnically diverse ever, unlike the all white student body that was found at CUNY until the middle of this century. Today 32% of CUNY students are Black, 31% White students, 25% Hispanic, and 12% Asian students. But the fact remains that because of Open Admissions, CUNY’s standards have fluctuated in recent years.
With the introduction of the Open Admissions policy, “Remedial Education” was also introduced for those students who may have needed work in the fundamentals, reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Recently two CUNY sociologists performed a study of City University graduates. What they found was interesting. Using freshman from 1988, the two found that “most students who graduated from the four year colleges only did so after taking at least one remedial course.” Yet remedial courses make up only 10% of CUNY classes. This figure is not uncommon when checked against other public universities across the United States. CUNY has been in the business of picking up where New York City public schools have left off for years, with over a third of it’s students (approx. 66,000 students) taking at least one remedial class, most taking two or more. Remediating high school students was not the intended role for the Free Academy, but it is a necessary function of CUNY today, and would be greatly missed by those who could benefit from remedial programs.
Unfortunately CUNY also is the proud bearer of one of the highest