N.Y.C. Students defend open admissions

NEW YORK – The City College of New York (CCNY) celebrated the 35th anniversary of the open admissions policy in the City University of New York (CUNY) here April 22. CCNY is part of the CUNY system.

Until 1969 CUNY denied admission to many Black and Latino students, who often attended low-income high schools and needed some college preparatory classes. After a movement successfully fought for an open admissions policy and CUNY hired faculty to ensure these students were given the remedial classes they needed, students flocked to the CUNY system.

In 1975, due to New York City’s financial crisis, the university imposed tuition for the first time in 100 years. Many said at the time that it was not coincidental that tuition was imposed only six years after open admissions, which resulted in the enrollment of thousands of women and minorities. Nevertheless, the policy continued for 20 years.

Then in the early 1990s, CUNY revisited the policy of open admissions. The governing board at CUNY decided the policy at its four-year colleges was flawed and should be stopped, even though 85 percent of U.S. colleges offer some type of tutoring or remediation for students. This, in effect, made “tracking” a system at CUNY.

If students had any need for tutoring, they could no longer go to four-year colleges. Instead, CUNY relegated them to the community colleges. One noticeable effect of the remediation ban was the reduction of the number of English as a Second Language (ESL) students. In 1981 there were 1,000 ESL students at CCNY. Today there are 70, although New York City continues to be a city of immigrants. Overall, there once were 8,000 ESL students at the four-year colleges, down to 2,000 today.

According to a report prepared by the CUNY chancellor’s office for its 2004-2005 budget request, since the 1960s “CUNY has produced about 800,000 graduates. The great majority of the alumni remain in New York City contributing to the economy of New York.”

Now CUNY is trying to restrict admission into its two-year colleges, which is why many celebrating the 35th anniversary of open admissions are calling for a strong initiative to bring back the policy to the four-year colleges and to make sure the policy does not get derailed at the two-year schools.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.