Two Years Later, City’s Students Soaring and Saving Money with CUNY

The Urban Assembly School for Green Careers, founded in 2008 on the Upper West Side, covered CUNY application fees for their students in advance of the Department of Education’s Fee Waiver program for low-income students, which was launched in 2016 | Carolyn Adams

Students at the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers are hard at work and eager to talk about their college plans on the half of the classroom that they fill. The other of the room is occupied by a full-scale sustainable house that they constructed over the last two years as part of the school’s Building Sciences program.

The Career and Technical Education (CTE) school in Manhattan is one of many that have undeniably benefitted from the Department of Education’s two-year-long partnership with CUNY, which waived application fees for low-income students.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Linda Chen, the Chief Academic Officer of the Department of Education, shared how the waivers have driven record increases in college enrollment citywide, but data from Green Careers shows an undeniable impact.

(l to r) Department of Education’s Dr. Linda Chen, Urban Assembly Principal Madeleine Ciliotta-Young, and Urban Assembly Superintendent Fred Walsh | Carolyn Adams

Last year, just seven students used the fee waivers and 42 percent of students went on to enroll in college. Within a year, the number of students who applied to CUNY for free increased 900 percent and college enrollment rose to 70 percent among graduates.

Principal Madeleine Ciliotta-Young, a CUNY graduate herself, said that the numbers reflect the priorities of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza’s administrations. “College applications can be yet another barrier to student success. If we truly believe in equity, access, and opportunities for all of our children, we will nurture programs like the CUNY fee waivers.”

More than 41,000 students across the city saved $65 as a result of the waivers, which can make a difference for students from families whose household incomes are less than $46,435 or for those who are undocumented.

Teacher Christopher Sedita discusses water tanks with students at the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers on the Upper West Side, where he founded the Building Sciences program | Carolyn Adams

Students who have chosen to apply to multiple CUNY schools saved significantly by having fees waived. In 2016, Green Careers alum Jefferson Ortega applied to more than six CUNY programs, which could have cost him more then $400 in application costs. “If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to do that. It opened up opportunities for the future.” Ultimately, he chose to attend City College in Harlem, where he studies psychology.

All of the students that were approached had aspirations to build careers that would “make a difference in this world and change the lives of many in the future,” as Green Careers senior Sharon Lopez said. All of the seniors applied to CUNY schools last year and almost half enrolled in a CUNY program, but many also applied to SUNY schools like the University at Buffalo.

Finding success with the CUNY partnership, Dr. Chen suggested that even more doors may be opened for the city’s 1.1 million students by waiving application fees for eligible students. “It’d be interesting to expand and see if SUNY or others are interested in doing that as well because we believe our young people are ready for college or career.”

Mariama Barry, a senior at Lehman College in the Bronx, graduated from the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers in 2015 and credits college counselor Mike Campanelli and the school’s CUNY application fee waiver as helping to make college accessible to her and her peers | Carolyn Adams

Until then, the Office of Postsecondary Readiness, which Dr. Chen oversees, will continue to expand the College Access for All initiative. She said that it has been successful largely because of college counselors like Green Career’s Mike Campanelli, who alum Mariama Barry said has inspired her to pursue college counseling. “It really is critical: the one-to-one student connection.”

Back in the classroom, Christopher Sedita, the founder of the Buildings Science program, raises a tape measure to the siding of the wood-facing house with a group of students looking on. Despite the fact that it will be deconstructed in a matter of months, another group discusses plans to install plumbing fixtures in their house – just a few feet away.