Workforce Development Now!

On a frigid day in January as the reality of vanishing jobs was setting in, a New York City Council committee convened a hearing on a timely, if urgent, subject: workforce development. First up to testify were four CUNY educators, and no wonder: New Yorkers turn to CUNY's vast network of continuing education programs when they seek new skills, credentials and careers, and demand is on the rise.

The City University of New York registered 270,000 continuing education students last year, and with courses, certificates and degrees offered throughout the University in everything from basic skills prep to asbestos abatement to nursing, teaching, and "green" technologies, the University is poised to play a critical role in re-shaping New York's current and future workforce.

But CUNY strengthens the economy in ways that far exceed even the challenge of helping to educate and train a 21st-century workforce during a recession.

From its historic and continuing role as educator of immigrant and low- and moderate-income New Yorkers, to its resurgence as an institution that attracts renowned researchers and high-achieving students, to its leadership in mobilizing needed support for public higher education, CUNY is critical to New York's economic life.

"CUNY is one of the state's most powerful economic development engines, from the high-quality, affordable college education we provide, to the cutting-edge discoveries unfolding in our labs, to the ongoing economic stimulus provided by CUNY students, faculty, staff and graduates who study, work, live, buy and pay taxes here," said Chancellor Matthew Goldstein.

"New Yorkers know that CUNY represents educational value, and in a challenging economy, there is increased demand for our programs and services," Chancellor added. "We are providing the highly educated and skilled workforce our City, State and nation needs to remain competitive."

CUNY recently responded to the economic downturn with new innovations by reaching out to financially ailing New Yorkers. In December, the University partnered with the city Department of Consumer Affairs and the New York Daily News for a week-long public service call-in, the "Your Money Help Line," staffed by 550 CUNY volunteers manning 48 phone lines from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. In five days, the call-in fielded thousands of questions from New Yorkers struggling with debt, credit and investment woes.

The University has assisted thousands of New Yorkers and their families in navigating economic difficulties through other CUNY-Daily News phone banks staffed by CUNY experts: the popular, annual Citizenship Now! immigration help line and the Your Money Financial Aid Hotline. Such efforts help students overcome financial obstacles to entering CUNY, completing their education, and improving their economic status, fulfilling the University's mission to provide diverse New Yorkers – many with heavy work and family obligations — access to a quality education and the skills for success.

Middle-class ladder

The earning power students gain by attending CUNY has long played a stabilizing role in the city's economy and has been a significant factor in building the city's middle class.

The numbers are telling. Four-fifths of all students attending two-year colleges in New York City, and just less than one half of all baccalaureate students here, attend CUNY schools. From 1999-2008, University-wide enrollment soared by 25 percent.

Individuals who earn college degrees are more likely to be employed and to enjoy higher earnings. With 9,553 Associate degrees conferred in 2006, and each degree adding an estimated $6,804 more in earning power, CUNY added $64.9 million to those graduates' earnings, according to the University's Office of Institutional Research and Assessment.

Baccalaureate degrees add another $15,588 to earnings; therefore, the 15,484 bachelor's degrees awarded in 2006 added $241.4 million to CUNY graduates' earnings. And with more than 650,000 graduates since 1978-79, CUNY contributed nearly $13.6 billion more in annual earnings in 2008 to New York City residents than if they had only graduated from high school.

Figures compiled by CUNY illustrate the virtual step-by-step ladder to the middle class that CUNY continues to offer.

  • Fifty-three percent of CUNY's first-time freshmen qualify for federal Pell grants for low-income students, 30 percent of undergraduates live in households with income of less than $15,000, and the majority, 62 percent, are in households earning less than $35,000.
  • Approximately 35,000 degrees per year are earned through nearly 1,400 degree programs. More than 1.1 million degrees have been conferred by CUNY since 1966-67.
  • CUNY's vast array of non-degree, vocational and skill development programs enrolled 270,000 continuing education students last year. CUNY's College Now enrolls more than 47,000 New York City high school students in college prep classes.
  • CUNY plays a critical role in the education of people of color in New York City. Last year, African Americans and Latinos were awarded 50 percent of associate degrees, 46 percent of baccalaureate degrees and 28 percent of master's degrees conferred by CUNY.

"For low- and middle-income New Yorkers, CUNY has been, and will continue to be, the higher education vehicle of choice for reaching and staying in the middle class," Chancellor Goldstein said.

With many New York employers and workers in financial difficulty, CUNY's wide-ranging continuing education programs, serving students with varying educational and socioeconomic backgrounds are in increased demand. Last year, 180,000 of the 270,000 student registrations in these programs were for vocational and basic skills preparation.

CUNY has responded to the nation's acute nursing shortage by nearly doubling the number of graduates of its programs in five years. Last year, the National Licensing Exam pass rate for CUNY nursing graduates was 86.5 percent compared with an NCLEX pass rate of 82.1 percent for graduates of non-CUNY nursing programs in New York. The average annual income of 1997-2007 CUNY graduates working as licensed RNs is $73,747. And more than 90% of those who earned their first nursing degree from CUNY's programs during the last decade, and then became RNs, are currently working in nursing, 80% of them in hospitals.

Educating for tomorrow

The New York City College of Technology has been investing in new, computer-driven manufacturing technology so it can provide viable training for future employees of metropolitan area manufacturing companies — a field considered to have significant growth potential. Queensborough Community College is providing "re-tooling" and career evaluation seminars and counseling for laid-off mid- and senior-level corporate employees trying to re-focus, and develop new careers.

CUNY colleges are partnering with local unions to build and sharpen New Yorkers' skills in areas ranging from GED and ESL to computers. Hostos Community College has been offering members of the 32 BJ Union classes that could make them eligible for wage upgrades, such as plumbing, carpentry and refrigeration. With healthcare Local 1199, Hostos has offered Bridge to Nursing programs, and last summer graduated its first 1199 cohort of LPNs. And New York City College of Technology, LaGuardia Community College and Kingsborough Community College have been partnering with the Union of Carpenters and Joiners to work with young people aged 18 to 24, to train for construction apprenticeships. The participants, largely Latino and African-American, have been placed in union apprenticeships and hired by Con Edison and other companies.

Some 35,000 continuing education students per year receive instruction and training through LaGuardia's Division of Adult and Continuing Education, the largest continuing education program at a public college in New York City. The division is funded by more than 40 public and private grants, contracts with local employers, student tuition and tax levy funds, and targets its services — providing educational, vocational, language and "life" skills — to current workers, new work force entrants, low-income New Yorkers, out-of-school and incarcerated youth, and existing and start-up businesses.

At the City Council Higher Education Committee's hearing in December, LaGuardia's dean for workforce programs, Sandra Watson, illustrated the business development assistance CUNY provides. "Marie L." and "Dominique" had dreamed of opening a day care center, Watson said, but as the financial crisis was rapidly unfolding, getting start-up financing was difficult despite their strong credentials. The LaGuardia Small Business Development program helped them rework their business plan, find a lender and deal with the application process, and they were approved for a $120,000 loan in November. They expect to open Little Children's Garden Inc. in Flushing, this spring.

LaGuardia, working with government, business, community organizations and other groups, "is a major partner in New York City's workforce development system and is poised to have a greater impact on the system in the coming years," Watson told the Council.

Investment in CUNY has been essential to the University's rising reputation for academic excellence and cutting-edge research. The University, by pioneering the CUNY Compact model of financing the system through a partnership based on government support, private giving, student tuition and CUNY institutional efficiencies – has made itself a more powerful economic development engine. And that has attracted critical investment — from National Science Foundation grants to CUNY students to private donations that have supported creation of high-end CUNY institutions and programs.

Such successes are drawing increasing numbers of high-achieving students, as well as cutting-edge researchers, to the University. Chancellor Goldstein's Decade of Science initiative is strengthening the University's science programs, and CUNY has expanded Ph.D.-granting authority in the sciences to two senior colleges, to make the University more competitive in the quest for research funding.

CUNY's national reputation as a research hub is growing. The planned construction of the Advanced Science Research Center on the City College campus, and other science buildings around CUNY, is expected to create thousands of construction jobs. But what goes on inside CUNY's labs — from medical discoveries to energy innovations — also has economic implications.

For every $1 million spent on research in New York State, an estimated 12 new jobs are created, according to the 2007 report of the New York State Higher Education Commission. Then there is the research itself, generating important advances in health and medicine, and energy and sustainability.

At City College, electrical engineering Prof. David Crouse, director of the CUNY Center for Advanced Technology in Photonics Applications (CUNY CAT), is involved in the emerging field of metamaterials, used to develop electrical contacts that will increase the efficiency of silicon solar cells without increasing their manufacturing or operating costs.

Dr. Sanjoy Banerjee, distinguished professor of chemical engineering at CCNY and director of the CUNY Energy Institute (and formerly of The University of California system), is studying ways to efficiently store and transport electricity from renewable sources such as sun and wind, for potential use in largely electric, energy-efficient transportation. In cancer research, award-winning Dr. Jill Bargonetti-Chavarria of Hunter College has focused her investigations on the p53 protein, which assists in the suppression of tumor cell growth.

Queens College biochemistry and chemistry Prof. Robert Engel is developing new, durable, non-toxic, metal-free antimicrobial compositions that guard against bacteria and other threats, and can be embedded in products such as building materials, clothing, paints and packaging.

CUNY and the national economy

Chancellor Goldstein's longtime concern about funding and other challenges faced by CUNY and other public universities — such as competition from well-endowed private institutions for highly qualified faculty and funds — sparked discussions last year with the Carnegie Corp. and the heads of other large U.S. public university systems, leading to a "Summit on Public Higher Education" in New York last October co-hosted by the Chancellor and Carnegie Corporation President Vartan Gregorian.

The Carnegie Corporation in December published "The Higher Education Investment Act: An Open Letter to President-elect Obama and His Administration," in The New York Times. Signed by the presidents, chancellors and board presidents of 33 state university systems, it emphasized the essential role of public higher education in tough times, and committed the universities to be part of the solution. The letter asked that stimulus money be allocated to states for shovel-ready, higher-education infrastructure projects, to upgrade campuses to educate Americans for the 21st century, and to create construction and other jobs to shore up the economy.

CUNY's $1 billion in planned construction, slated for much-need science labs, critical maintenance and other building projects — such as the 13-story, 600,000 square-foot building rising at John Jay College of Criminal Justice — could create nearly 14,000 construction and off-site jobs, according to Iris Weinshall, Vice Chancellor for Facilities Planning, Construction, and Management.

With private development waning because of the economic meltdown, public projects "will retain many of the construction jobs we have learned to depend upon during the last 10 years of the building boom," Weinshall said.

The mandate to prepare students for the jobs of the future is at the heart of the Chancellor's proposal for an innovative, new community college in Manhattan, one that would require full-time enrollment, focus on math and literacy, and limit majors to fields that have a future, such as health care and environmental technology.