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and a proposal:  



Prepared by the CUNY Community College Conference, an Organization of Faculty and Staff from the City University of New York, Fall 1998 


The mission of the City University of New York, founded in 1847 as “The Free Academy,” has always been the education of “the children of all the people.”  In the 1960s, admissions were determined by high school averages in the mid to high 80s and “reasonably good” scores on the SAT tests.  But after protests in 1969 that black and Hispanic students were being excluded from CUNY, in 1970 CUNY opened its doors fully, guaranteeing a place somewhere within the University for all high school graduates or those with an equivalency diploma.  For a student who did not have an 80 average or who was not in the top half of a high school class, this meant a place at a community college

            Along with the guarantee of a place came the commitment that standards of academic excellence and ethnic integration of the colleges would be maintained and enhanced and that “remedial and other supportive services [would be supplied] for all students requiring them” (Board of Trustees Resolution, July 9, 1969).  Once students were accepted at a college, determination of remedial requirements was made by placement tests in writing, reading, and math.

            In May 1998, under pressure from Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki, CUNY’s Board of Trustees voted to end remediation at the senior colleges in stages, beginning in September 1999 and ending in 2002.  With no remedial option at the four year colleges, students would be excluded from the senior colleges on the basis of tests in reading, writing, and math originally designed for placement purposes.  In addition, proposals have been discussed to sharply limit remediation even at the community colleges which nationally are open admissions institutions.  In so doing, CUNY would cancel the ticket into the middle class that tens of thousands of New Yorkers have taken advantage of since 1970, terminating an almost 30-year commitment.

            In an effort to end open admissions and build the case that remedial education belongs outside of the University in the hands of private, for-profit companies, CUNY critics have created a number of myths.  In the following pages, we respond to those myths with the facts that critics routinely ignore, and we make our own proposal: Paving the Way to Academic Success for CUNY Students. 

Remediation: Myths and Facts 

1. THE MYTH:  CUNY is unique in providing remediation. 

THE FACTS:  Seventy-eight percent of all colleges in the United States provide some remediation, according to the U.S. Department of Education, including nearly all public community colleges and 81 percent of all public four-year colleges.  Only 25 percent of these schools limit remediation; many of these courses carry credit.  Virtually all NYC-area private colleges offer remedial courses, as do MIT, UCLA, Berkeley, and all SUNY campuses.

Underprepared students and “remedial” courses have been a fact of U.S. education since the nineteenth century.  In 1849 an entire division at the University of Wisconsin was created to help underprepared students.  By 1889, 80 percent of colleges and universities had preparatory programs; the identical percentage was reported in 1915.  Similar results were found in surveys in the 1970s, 1985, and 1991.


2. THE MYTH:  “Remediation has cheapened the CUNY degree, and dumb[ed] down…college-level classes” (Robert Berman, Daily News). 

THE FACTS:  Far from “dumbing down” college level work, remediation helps to maintain standards, preparing students newly out of high school who have been ill-served by their prior educational experiences, adults who have been out of school for many years and need time to get back up to speed, or immigrants who must master a second language.  (Forty percent of CUNY students speak English as a second language.)

College remedial reading, writing, and math courses help these students develop the critical thinking and problem-solving skills required for all college courses.  At Queensborough Community College, 40 percent of students enrolled in calculus during Spring 1998 started out in a remedial math class.  Further, according to a 1998 survey, 59 percent of Queensborough graduates also started out in remedial math.  Of those graduates, 60 percent have gone on to earn a B.A. or B.S., another 10 percent are currently studying at a senior college, and 19 percent have earned an M.A. or higher.

The effectiveness of CUNY’s education is demonstrated by the success of CUNY graduates in getting jobs, meeting the academic standards set by other universities, and winning honors.  In testimony before the Committee on Higher Education of the New York Assembly (June 5, 1998), Trustee Edith Everett reported that 120 corporations and agencies, many of them long-time participants, rented booths at a recent CUNY job fair.  About 1,000 students were hired that day.  According to David Lavin and David Hyllegard, “under open admissions, proportions of minority students earning post-graduate degrees more that doubled.  Especially noteworthy as well is that two-thirds of master’s degrees and more than 90 percent of advanced and professional degrees were earned at universities outside the CUNY system”  (Testimony before the Higher Education Subcommittee, The New York City Council, February 9, 1998.)

CUNY students, most of whom have come through remedial programs, are sought after by private universities.  Under an agreement with Vassar College, students – including former remedial students – from Bronx, Borough of Manhattan, and LaGuardia Community Colleges, are given full scholarships to a Vassar summer program where they earn six Vassar college credits.  Eighty percent of those attending obtain bachelor’s degrees and a significant number attend graduate schools.  Students have gone on from the Vassar program to Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Cornell, Colgate, Columbia, and Barnard.  Articulation agreements for particular programs within community colleges exist not only within the University but also with Long Island University, New York University, and SUNY.

Many impressive Spring 1998 graduates started in remedial classes.  For example, at Borough of Manhattan, a valedictorian and two students won scholarships to Long Island University; at La Guardia, two students won $17,000 scholarships to NYU; at Kingsborough, two former ESL students, one with a 4.0 grade point average and one with a 3.8, were accepted into very competitive physical therapy programs; at Queens, an English major turned down Berkeley to accept a place in the African American Studies program at Yale, where he won a full doctoral scholarship and the Sterling Fellowship for the most promising entering student in his field.  A Brooklyn College student who took remedial math courses and received an associate’s degree from Borough of Manhattan Community College, graduated with distinction from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and will enter the CUNY political science Ph.D. program as a Magnet/Presidential Fellow in the fall.


3. THE MYTH:  Remediation can be more effectively and efficiently provided at off-campus and private “immersion” institutes. 

THE FACTS:  The freshman skills immersion programs that have been provided by some CUNY campuses since 1985 are entirely different from those proposed by the Mayor and some of the Trustees.  The longstanding immersion courses are taught on campus by regular full-time and part-time faculty and replicate the skills courses given during the regular academic year; they are voluntary, students pay no tuition and book money is provided.

Since 1996, CUNY has experimented with off-campus English as a Second Language immersion programs.  However, off-campus institutes appear to be particularly inappropriate settings for CUNY’S many adult learners who are already getting a late start.  Proven principles of effective pedagogy indicate that students perform better and are retained at higher rates when they are integrated into the college curriculum in a college setting.  Isolating students in programs outside the college prevents them from receiving financial aid and taking credit-bearing courses in areas where they do not need remediation.

The Mayor has appointed a commission to examine CUNY, especially to address the question of whether remediation at the CUNY community colleges should be turned over to private companies.  This commission is chaired by Benno Schmidt Jr. and include others who, like Schmidt, are either associated with private companies that provide services to public schools or have gone on record as favoring privatization.  There is no evidence that for-profit companies do provide better services.  Furthermore, in other states private companies have creamed off the best students, dropping those with the greatest needs.


4. THE MYTH:  Students languish in remedial courses, never advancing, never graduating, endlessly repeating their remediation.  Or, according to Robert Berman in the Daily News, “most students at Remedial U. never do attain college-level standards”…and “make tax-payers pay for a high school education again and again.” 

THE FACTS:  Most students actually pass their remedial courses within one year, and the vast majority within three semesters.  According to Judith Watson, the Board of Trustees’ own researcher, among B.A. students at CUNY, 75 percent of students completed remediation in one year, almost 90 percent in three semesters.  Among associate’s degree (A.A.) students, the respective figures were 64 percent and 86 percent.  Among B.A. ESL students, 63 percent completed in two semesters and 77 percent in three; among A.A. ESL students, the figures were 50 percent and 70 percent.  Furthermore, at the B.A. level, the graduation rates of students who had not taken remedial courses were only about five percent higher than for students who had taken remediation.  For A.A. students, the graduation rate for students who had not taken remedial courses was actually 2.6 percent lower than for students who had!

As for the costs, Watson reported that in 1995 expenditures for basic skills courses represented about 10 percent of the budget and about 12 percent of instruction CUNYwide.  Moreover, CUNY degrees pay off economically.  Lavin and Hyllegard report that in one year during the mid-1980s, “former open-admissions students earned $67 million more than they would have” had they not been admitted to college, with obvious benefits going not only to them, but to the City and the State. 

Paving the Way to Academic Success for CUNY Students


·        Do not use tests designed for placement to exclude students from CUNY. 

·        Within the colleges, validate students’ competence in reading, writing and math using multiple measures rather than one standardized test. 

USE DATA AND RESEARCH FROM CUNY, professional organizations, and authoritative studies to guide policies, programs, and practice. 

·        Continue remediation at community colleges. 

·        Restore remediation at senior colleges. 

·        Keep all academic support for students on the campus where they are enrolled, with part-time and full-time faculty from that campus as teachers. 

·        Don’t expect to “cure” students of language difficulties before they go into the regular academic program.  As they move through their courses, give students the academic support they need, e.g., through paired courses, extended class hours, tutoring, and writing centers. 

PROMOTE THE CONDITIONS that make it easier for faculty to provide support for students. 

·        Limit class sizes following guidelines established by professional organizations. 

·        Hire more full-time faculty, and pay adjunct faculty for office hours with students. 

Restore Programs that ease students’ burdens so that they can more easily and quickly pursue their studies. 

·        Provide additional state tuition assistance for part-time students.  Restore state supplemental tuition assistance for students who require remediation before entering credit-bearing courses. 

·        Enforce the law that allows welfare recipients to fulfill work requirements on campus. 




The CUNY Community College Conference is an organization of faculty and staff of the community colleges of the City University. 

The Conference works to: 

Encourage academic and organizational excellence within the community colleges while supporting open access to CUNY; 

Create opportunities for public discussion of issues affecting the CUNY community colleges; 

Promote the exchange of information and the sharing of viewpoints among the faculty, staff, and students of the community colleges; 

Link the faculty and staff of CUNY community colleges with their local and broader constituencies; 

Provide a voice for faculty and staff to the public at large. 


Steering Committee Members: Co-chairs, Lorraine Cohen and Anne Friedman: Treasurer, Will Saunders; Secretary, Lenore Beaky; Communications Co-chairs, Francine Egger-Sider and Alberta Grossman; Outreach Co-chairs, Karen Anderson and Sam Farrell; Program Co-chairs, Gay Brookes and Sharona Levy. 

For more information, contact Co-chairs: 

Anne Friedman                         Lorraine Cohen

BMCC (212) 346-8338                     LAGCC (718) 482-5789

anfbm@cunyvm.cuny.edu                   jlm020@aol.com