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Students Split Over CUNY’s Toughened Admissions Standards

By Tracy Neiman • May 22nd, 2008 • Category: Public Affairs

[This article was written in Prof. Bernard L. Stein’s Basic Reporting class.]

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Controversy continues to mount over CUNY’s decision to raise the bar for admission to its senior colleges.

The beginning of this year marked the implementation of the toughest admissions requirements since the 1998 termination of open admissions. CUNY’s 2007 decision to raise the cutoff for SAT and New York State Regents math scores went into effect this past admissions season, with a higher cutoff for SAT and New York State Regents verbal scores soon to follow.

There is often a difference between the standards needed to graduate from high school and the standards that are necessary to succeed and excel at a university,” Chancellor Matthew Goldstein affirmed at an October College Board Forum titled “Successfully Serving Ouf Urban Students.” He emphasized that recent policy changes have been driven by “the desire to increase the credibility of a CUNY degree, and to give all of our students a solid academic experience.”

But some feel that more stringent admissions standards will hurt students in the New York City public school system.

Councilman Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), chair of the New York City Council’s Committee on Higher Education, expressed outrage over CUNY’s new policies, which he said particularly affected women, poor and minority students.

“We went from open enrollment to restricted enrollment,” Barron said in a phone interview. CUNY is changing its priorities, he argued, causing it to become elitist and exclusive. “We have to fight classism, racism, and sexism in CUNY.”

The majority of CUNY students interviewed disagree. Tougher admissions standards, many of them believe, serve to bolster to CUNY’s name. Chris Eng, a Hunter sophomore, felt that lenient admissions policies would cause students to “suffer from this complete lack of prestige.”

Elias Saber-Khiabani, a freshman, felt similarly. “CUNY colleges are typically considered a joke and not taken too seriously,” Saber-Khiabani said, “so I suppose raised standards are necessary to help improve that image.”

The quality of education also must be taken into consideration, contended Leo Bierman, a freshman. Certain academic standards for admission must be maintained, he argued, to create an “intellectually charged” environment in which students have similar goals and professors are engaged.

Chui-Hung Wong, a freshman, stressed that, “as a minority student myself, I feel it isn’t necessary to drop all standards in order to create opportunities for minorities.”

Freshman Louis Mergler added, “I’m shocked that Councilman Barron believes that CUNY’s admission policies are disenfranchising minority applicants. I find that CUNY has the most diverse student body of all universities in New York.”

Still, some students agree with Barron, deeming the higher standards for admission unfair roadblocks to minority applicants. “I work in a neighborhood in which the education is sub-par,” said Ly Ky Tran, a Hunter freshman. “It is no wonder that students who must endure such an environment would not be able to reach the standards now established by CUNY.”

Luz Schreiber, also a student at Hunter, echoed Tran’s sentiments. “We are still dealing with the after-effects of segregation,” she emphasized, adding that previous remediation and open admissions policies “came out of a struggle of justice to allow students [who] historically have been neglected and abused, into school.

“You have to look at this as part of reparations,” she stressed. “Nobody chooses where to be born, and we are actually punishing students for being poor and attending a school in a district that has low funding,” Schreiber affirmed. “That is not justice or equality for all.”

Still, said Lauren Larsen, a transfer student planning to attend Hunter this fall, community colleges “are good starters for those not ready for a four-year commitment.”

Marcus Ng, a freshman at Hunter, added that lower acceptance rates could relate, simply, to pragmatic issues, like space. “Hunter consists of five buildings and has a student population of about 21,000,” he said.

“If anyone’s been in Bio lecture, he can tell that Hunter’s just a tad overcrowded.”

But the matter of esteem, not space, was the issue for most students supporting firmer admissions requirements. CUNY “deserves some respect,” stressed David Wexler, a freshman at Hunter, “which it won’t get if our admission policy is 100%.”

“I personally think it is sad that students focus so much on the ‘name,’” Tran rejoined.

Schreiber added, “I was actually a remedial student at Hunter when I first entered in 1998 and I really resent the broad generalizations made about Hunter or any school before it had ‘standards.’

“I have never taken any easy classes to just pass,” she emphasized, “so I don’t see any correlation between the standards and students’ performance.

“A number is an arbitrary measure” of ability, she added.

Schreiber’s argument is illustrated by Helen Klein’s experience at Brooklyn College in 1970, the first year of CUNY’s open admissions.

“There were kids admitted, way brighter than their grades indicated, who had the opportunity to have a fresh start,” Klein contended.

“As somebody who graduated at the top of my class,” she said, “I don’t think my education was impaired by sharing the school with students who weren’t as advanced as I was. You get out of an education what you put into it.

“There’s a difference between getting in and getting out,” Klein added. “It would devalue the diploma if people were handed a degree that they didn’t earn.”

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Tracy Neiman is a freshman at Hunter College and a prospective Media Studies major and Creative Writing minor. Tracy currently serves as Associate News Editor for the Hunter Envoy, Hunter's student body newspaper. In this capacity, she has covered issues including the student movement to support Hunter's Asian American Studies Program, the effects of the New York City and State budgets on CUNY, student efforts to garner more funding for the Hunter Parents Union, the chaotic lives of student parents, and other hard news and features articles. Tracy has been appointed to serve as News Editor for the 2008-2009 school year.
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