CW President's Blog
CW President's Blog

Karen Smith
September 23, 2009
by Karen Smith
Dichotomy: a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities [the dichotomy between theory and practice]; also: the process or practice of making such a division [dichotomy of the population into two opposed classes]
According to a NY Post article from 8/23/09, CUNY community colleges only graduated 2.3% of their entering full-time, first-time freshman from 2006 (Edelman, 2009). The article states that one of the reasons they cannot graduate more students is that students are not well prepared at the high school level. This is a debate that is waged nation-wide. Who IS to blame? Well, according to a recent New York Times article, William Bowen (an economist and former Princeton president) and Michael McPherson (an economist and former Macalester College president) who just published "Crossing the Finish Line", believe it is a combination of ill prepared students and the need to improve colleges. Often, they have concluded, colleges are strictly focused on enrollment and not graduation and are not held accountable for their failures (Leonhardt, 2009). Could this be true in the City's Community Colleges?
Recently we held orientation here at the College of Westchester for our fall class of 2009 and we anticipate that 55-60% of freshman entering the associate degree programs will graduate on time. We expect that 85% of those beginning the bachelor's completion program will graduate on time. Why is this difference so vast? I believe it has to do with the environment. Our college is significantly smaller and private. We have complete control over the budget and facilities. This control allows us to ensure that we meet our mission and that our resources go directly toward mission attainment, there are no political strings attached. Our primary resource focus is excellence in the classroom and excellence in customer service. Further, we put high expectations on our students and let them know we want them to succeed and expect them to show up and work hard each day. We are not perfect, but we strive daily to do everything we can to see our students succeed.
It is only my opinion but I believe a small, private college is a much more conducive environment for success. Why? Well, here is an example. Recently, my niece sent over a photo and note via her iphone of a class she was trying to get into at a CUNY college. It was a Chemistry lecture with 700 students. Can you imagine the challenge for the students and the teacher to lecture a group of 700? How would you get a question asked or answered in that setting? Our classes run from 15-25 students. Our faculty members get to know students by name and they help them inside and outside the classroom. My comments do not suggest or imply disrespect to the CUNY system or its faculty members; I merely wish to point out some factual data related to achievement of graduation.
Here's another interesting snippet that was shared with me by one of our college administrators. Apparently, Andre Agassi has put his name and his foundation's money behind a charter college preparatory K-12 school in what he refers to as an economically challenged area in Las Vegas. The school graduated its first class in June and had a 100% graduation rate (Hansen, 2009)! That is excellent! Further the college preparatory program expects 100% of its graduates to go on to college. According to the school's website:
"Located in the heart of Las Vegas' most at-risk neighborhood, AACPA was created specifically to improve skill levels and combat lowered academic expectations while creating a climate of hope among this community's most challenged children. Advanced technology, smaller class sizes and extended school hours are just some of the practices the AACPA utilizes to achieve a higher standard of education."(Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, 2009)
It could be rather difficult to get all the public schools in challenged areas of this country to agree to two additional weeks of school per year and two additional hours of class per day. I wonder if that could be achieved in all public schools. Funding and commitment would be needed. That is part of the method behind AACPA's approach to success for its students. The school's Chancellor Marsha Irvin is quoted in the article as saying that the "kinds of resources and having small classes really does make a difference in terms of helping children identify what is going to be best for them. The ratio is a lot smaller than in most schools and that just makes all the difference in the world" (Hansen, 2009). It is true at The College of Westchester too. The bottom line, in my personal opinion, is that we do a fantastic job educating and graduating our students at our college because we believe they can succeed and we hold our students and ourselves to high expectations, just like they do at Andre Agassi Collegiate Preparatory Academy. President Obama is proposing billions of dollars be infused into the country's community colleges. While I applaud his sincere desire to improve education, so that our workforce can serve to drive the economy, I sincerely hope he plans to attach expectations and accountability to that infusion of funding. In the meantime, small private colleges such as The College of Westchester, by virtue of mission and focus, are already producing the economy driving graduates that the President hopes will be produced by our Community Colleges "someday".

(Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy 2009 About Agassi Pres)Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. (2009). About Agassi Pres. Retrieved September 10, 2009, from
dichotomy. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.Retrieved September 10, 2009, from
Edelman, S. (2009). 2-Year degree of great difficulty. New York Post. Retrieved from
Hansen, K. (2009). Andre Agassi prep school graduates inaugural class. Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved from
Leonhardt, D. (2009). Colleges are failing in graduation rates. New York Times. Retrieved from
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