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CUNY Start Program Aims to Help Get More Community College Students to Graduation

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CUNY has started several programs to try to help more community college students make it to graduation, and one of those experiments, CUNY Start, may be paying off. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

The percentage of students graduating in four years from city high schools is at 66 percent, a record high.

However, the percentage of applicants to CUNY's associate degree programs who are short the skills needed for college and who have to take remedial courses to master what they should have learned in high school is at 78 percent.

"I took the exam to get into CUNY, and them I found out I failed all three of them," said student Shomari Wilson. "So then after that, I went back to working."

"I was like, 'What's next? Do I really want to continue with college, maybe get more discouraged?'" said student Brittany Diblasio.

The city may be graduating more students from high school, but most of those who go on to community college never get a degree. At CUNY's two-year colleges, only 16 percent graduate within three years.

Officials say part of the problem is that many students spend all of their financial aid on remedial classes.

Over the past few years, CUNY has been pioneering several programs to try to address the problem. One of them, CUNY Start, has expanded rapidly and now serves more than 1,000 students a semester across eight CUNY campuses.

It's basically pre-college boot camp. Students spend 25 hours a week in small classes focused on the reading, writing and math skills they need.

"I really liked it because it was really different from a lot of other programs," Wilson said.

Of the 3,000 who've completed the program since it began in 2009, half passed all the exams needed to skip any remedial courses.

It's not just the academics.

"We're doing lessons on goal setting and grit and self-advocacy and time management," said Deema Bayrakdar, director of CUNY Start at LaGuardia Community College.

CUNY basically picks up the tab.

"The cost was a blessing. It was $75. That's amazing," Wilson said.

A regular semester at LaGuardia Community College costs $2,100.

The university reports that its investment in students up front is paying off over time, with those who've completed CUNY Start going on to earn more credits and higher grades than students who did traditional remedial courses. ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP