This college is responding to an often-ignored population: Working adults - The Washington Post

This college is responding to an often-ignored population: Working adults - The Washington PostThis college is responding to an often-ignored population: Working adults - The Washington PostPosted: 23 Sep 2020 07:45 AM PDT On Wednesday, Paul Quinn will become the first historically Black college to partner with Guild Education, a Denver-based firm that works with companies such as Walmart and Lowe's to provide education benefits to employees. Paul Quinn is among dozens of colleges and universities, including Southern New Hampshire University and the University of Florida, offering credentials and degrees through Guild. Employees of the companies in the Guild network can access all of Paul Quinn's courses and four-year-degree programs. The college has short-term credential programs and accelerated degrees designed for working adults. "This is about unlocking the potential of America's workforce," Sorrell said. "It's about moving people forward using higher e…

CUNY fall semester enrollment drops as financial outlook takes toll on students and staff - Brooklyn Daily Eagle

CUNY fall semester enrollment drops as financial outlook takes toll on students and staff - Brooklyn Daily Eagle

CUNY fall semester enrollment drops as financial outlook takes toll on students and staff - Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Posted: 07 Aug 2020 02:02 PM PDT

The CUNY Graduate Center in Midtown was boarded up during the coronavirus outbreak, June 25, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Claudine Brummel hoped to transfer to Brooklyn College this fall semester after two years at Kingsborough Community College, where the classroom became her "happy place."

But the spring and summer semesters of online-only classes proved difficult. She couldn't focus and wasn't learning, she said. School suddenly became her "biggest nightmare."

"Looking at the semester moving forward, I just can't see myself doing schoolwork if I'm not physically at school," the 25-year-old student told THE CITY.

Brummel and thousands of other students have opted to take a break this upcoming fall semester — for personal, financial or health reasons — following pandemic disruptions that have swept across the public university system, upending the lives of students, faculty and staff.

CUNY has yet to release official fall enrollment figures and maintains that the pandemic's effect on the number of students expected to take classes this semester is still unknown. But a snapshot of fall enrollment taken mid-July and posted online by John Verzani, a College of Staten Island math professor, offers some insight.

The numbers show system-wide enrollment down 3.7 percent over the same time the previous year — a decline of more than 10,000 students across CUNY's 25 colleges.

In all, CUNY had enrolled 181,927 students for Fall 2020 by July 18 — 67 percent of CUNY's enrollment "target" for the previous fall semester, according to Verzani's chart.

Nearly all colleges experienced declines. Only CUNY's School of Medicine and its Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy experienced sizable growth over last year's enrollment — 14.8 percent and 10.7 percent , respectively.

A spokesperson for CUNY did not dispute the accuracy of the enrollment figures.

But so far, CUNY's chancellor, Félix Matos Rodríguez, has refrained from sharing details publicly. "It is still unknown how the coronavirus will impact our enrollment for the Fall 2020 semester," he testified to a state Senate committee at a July 28 hearing about COVID-19 on campus.

Last month, the university announced most fall classes would be taught only online, with the exception of in-person science labs and arts studios. CUNY's fall semester begins Aug. 26, with each campus directed to follow comprehensive reopening guidelines.

'The Right Decision'

Adjusting to online learning hasn't been easy for many students, noted Tim Hunter, the student representative on the CUNY Board of Trustees and a City College of Technology alumnus.

"I don't blame the students that are upset and don't wanna have to deal with that," he said. "If that means taking some time off from our studies, if that's what's absolutely necessary, then I think that's the right decision that some people needed to make."

CUNY's Brooklyn College was shuttered during the coronavirus outbreak, May 1, 2020. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Christian Cozlov, 25, a senior at Brooklyn College who studies philosophy, said he's considering a hiatus after finding himself procrastinating at home during the pandemic-rocked spring semester.

"I know that there are people who like online classes, but this is not for me," said Cozlov. "It doesn't make my education any better. It doesn't make my education any more efficient."

Cozlov, who works weekends as a porter in a Manhattan building, said he plans to use his spare time to find a second job and earn extra money while planning a return to CUNY in the spring.

In-state resident tuition for CUNY's four-year colleges this academic year is $6,930, not including fees.

One Month at a Time

Meanwhile, many faculty and staff members have criticized CUNY's treatment of employees as schools have begun to shed workers in response to budget cuts. CUNY, for its part, has been waiting for possible additional federal aid.

In communicating with faculty and staff, the administration has attributed austerity measures to its fiscal outlook — which depends, in part, on tuition funds tied to enrollment levels. State budget uncertainties only add to the dim outlook, with future aid also linked to the number of students.

"This is truly new territory," said State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Queens), who chairs the Senate's higher education committee. "It's sort of like Lewis and Clark tracing along the Oregon Trail. They don't know what's ahead."

Staff members known as college assistants — many of whom are students or recent graduates — say that they're facing debilitating job uncertainty.

Since the beginning of July, CUNY has been offering month-to-month contracts to these assistants and other hourly employees.

In one letter to assistants at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Interim President Karrin Wilks acknowledged CUNY's uncertain financial outlook.

"Unfortunately, 2020-21 is expected to be a difficult year and CUNY lacks sufficient budget information at this time to effectively forecast beyond the month of August," Wilks wrote in the letter, obtained by THE CITY.

Christina Freeman, who manages four assistants in Hunter College's Department of Art and Art History, says CUNY waited until July 31 to tell her staff whether they'd be employed in August.

"CUNY is waiting until the end of each month to tell people if they have work for the following week," Freeman told THE CITY.

She called college assistants the "backbone of our department," running labs, operating specialized equipment and making sure everything else runs smoothly.

Hunter's college assistants have been working to prepare facilities for the fall semester.

"If they're not rehired, the faculty can't teach their classes," she said.

Elizabeth Lewin, a college assistant and an alumna of Hunter College's MFA program, said she's received little information from CUNY and her union, DC37. She said she's heard that these short contracts will be the new normal for the foreseeable future "with no guarantee or reassurance that you'll have that position or that contract next month."

"It seems that this almost seems to be an opportunistic kind of way of whittling down numbers by stringing us along to this month-to-month thing," she said.

"They feel that they can get away with this because the unemployment rate is so high," she added. "Many of us feel as though this is our only viable job at the moment."

Henry Garrido, executive director of DC37, noted that the CUNY Board of Trustees passed only a single month's budget, so uncertain is the funding picture from both Albany and Washington.

"This is not an ideal situation — having people from month to month — but we are also facing unprecedented challenges here and so I can't blame CUNY for not executing a longterm contract that they might not be able to execute if the funding is not there," he said.

CUNY In Court

CUNY has so far declined to renew contracts with more than 2,800 adjunct faculty members, according to the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing 30,000 faculty and staff.

In his Senate testimony, Matos Rodríguez said: "If the fiscal and enrollment situation are more favorable in August, we plan to re-appoint some of the adjuncts."

In July, the union filed a lawsuit against CUNY, arguing the university should have retained the adjuncts when it received $251 million in federal CARES Act funds. The PSC argued that CUNY should continue to pay the part-time professors "to the greatest extent practicable," as the CARES Act states.

"If the union's request for a preliminary injunction is granted, there is more than enough work for these adjuncts to do to teach and support CUNY students, even if enrollment at some colleges declines," said Rendy Desamours, a spokesperson for the PSC.

In a July 30 email to faculty and staff, Matos Rodríguez noted the university almost finished disbursing $118 million of CARES funds to students.

With the remaining money, Matos Rodríguez wrote, "we submitted a plan to the state that prioritized student support and mental health services, reimbursements to campuses for COVID 19-related costs such as refunds, and investments in online infrastructure and training."

That same day, PSC President Barbara Bowen wrote an email to union members that listed 10 demands sent to CUNY, including reinstating laid-off adjuncts and restoring health insurance to those who lost it when they were let go.

CUNY Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen speaks at a press conference at City Hall, March 4, 2019. Courtesy of the Professional Staff Congress

"If the demands below are not satisfactorily addressed by August 26, all options will be on the table, including further legal and legislative action, votes of no confidence, and preparation for a strike," she wrote.

On Friday, the PSC and CUNY will meet in Manhattan federal court for their initial conference.


Steven Taylor wasn't hopeful that the lawsuit would force CUNY to rehire him.

An adjunct associate professor of English at Bronx Community College since 2009, Taylor taught basic writing and literature courses for first and second-year students.

In 2017, he signed a three-year contract with CUNY, including health insurance, reserved for the most experienced adjuncts.

His contract was up for renewal in May, but he never received word that it would be renewed. After the spring semester, he completed a course to become certified as an online instructor at the recommendation of his chairperson. Then he taught during the summer semester.

After teaching his last class and receiving his last paycheck, he received a letter from CUNY on June 27, saying he'd been "terminated officially six weeks before I stopped teaching."

In the month since, Taylor, who's 65, has spent much time trying to claim unemployment insurance — and unexpectedly fast-forwarding his retirement.

"I decided to take my Social Security now and take my Medicare just to cover me," he said. "It's like a big change. It's a big change that I was not anticipating."

He said he'd go back to teaching at CUNY if offered, not only because it was the best job he's ever had, but because he believes public university is vital for the city and state's future.

"If you don't support CUNY, where you gonna get your cops and your nurses and your accountants and your bookkeepers and all of those trades and professions that they teach in the CUNY schools? Where are you going to get them? It's so short-sighted."

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

With master's students back in class, MECA already in first phase of reopening campus - Press Herald

Posted: 22 Jul 2020 12:00 AM PDT

Socially distanced MECA students critique artwork by Jon Stahly, a master's student, on Friday. Photo by Christopher Stiegler, Program Chair of the Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art

While most colleges in Maine weigh whether and how to bring students back this fall, the Maine College of Art is already holding classes at its campus in downtown Portland.

More than two dozen graduate students arrived in early July in the first stage of a phased reopening plan that will bring all of MECA's 500 or so students back on campus in early September.

Monday marked the start of the third week of the eight-week summer intensive for MFA students. They will be joined the week of Aug. 2 by students seeking a master of arts in teaching, on Aug. 24 by incoming freshmen and on Sept. 1 by returning undergraduates. The MFA fall semester and the Salt graduate program begin Sept. 8.

In-person learning in the early part of the summer is limited to students pursuing their master's degrees, a small cohort of 26 students, eight of whom live in MECA residence halls. This fall, classes will take place both in-person and online, said MECA President Laura Freid. When she addressed the MFA students in early July, Freid told them they were educational pioneers. "I felt very fortunate for them to be one of the few groups during this pandemic to have a community around them, a community of like-minded makers and thinkers," Freid said.

Across Maine, reopening plans vary from campus to campus. This month, the University of New England and Maine Maritime Academy both announced they will open in the fall with students on campus, joining the University of Maine system, while Southern Maine Community College will offer a mix of in-person and online classes. Bates College will reopen to students, but at Bowdoin College only freshman, for the most part, will be on campus. The College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, with a student body similar in size to that of MECA, will offer a mix of on-campus and online learning.

MECA's reopening plan is rooted in its 200,000-square-foot downtown building, which allows room to bring people together while also giving them space. MECA invested in a new air-ventilation system this past winter, just before the pandemic hit, giving administrators greater confidence in their plans, Freid said. "It gives us the opportunity to let students have the space they need to physically distance and still have the community they need to feel a part of the campus," she said. "The first thing on my mind is the health and safety of our community. We have had a committee of people working all spring and summer, along with members of the medical community, to make sure we have a healthy and safe campus. We will be taking every precaution should things change. We can shift to all online if we need to."

Lauren Keim is among two dozen or so MFA students who are back in session at the Maine College of Art. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Among the safety measures MECA has implemented are mandatory temperature checks before entering the building and the use of face masks in the building, except when students are working alone in their enclosed studios. Even then, they are asked to mask up 30 minutes before they will come in contact with others. All students were required to pass a COVID-19 test before beginning summer classes, and out-of-state students were required to meet Maine's 14-day quarantine guidelines.

The cafe is open for gathering, but there's no food service, and the building is closed to outside visitors.

So far it's going well, said Lauren Keim, who is pursuing her master's in photography. "It's very nice to have the school open and available and to be with people again," said Keim, 50, who moved to Portland from Virginia late last year and has been isolating alone since the pandemic began. "I do feel safe. I have not been personally very paranoid about the virus, partly because I have been on my own so much and had so little contact with people. But everybody is doing a good job and paying attention to details."

She is less certain about how she will feel in late August, when as many as 500 undergraduates begin arriving. That prospect makes her nervous, she said. "I will feel more apprehensive then. That is a lot of people. I will just kind of see what comes of it when the time comes, but I feel very safe right now," she said.

Caitlyn D'Amico, a 23-year-old MFA painting major from Watertown, Massachusetts, said she feels "safe and heard. They've done a good job making us feel comfortable. They were able to keep the group small enough, and the people who are allowed in the building is really limited."

Freid said MECA's in-person and online classroom strategies provide flexibility while preserving the campus experience. The approach creates less density during the summer and early part of the fall when freshmen will move into residence halls, and also gives priority to studio-related work that thrives on interaction and engagement. Art schools face a unique challenge because of the hands-on nature of the creative process. Art-making can be a solitary experience, but teaching art is tactile and process-oriented, and best accomplished among small settings of people, she said.

Freid is part of a network of about 40 art-and-design school administrators around the country who communicate regularly about their plans. She said most are moving forward with a hybrid approach that includes in-person studio instruction. "All of us have learned there are many courses you can deliver online that are excellent – art history and others. But for studio courses, most are planning to do them in person," she said.

One of the biggest changes involves the student critique, where students display their work for group evaluation. It's an emotional and charged moment that will feel very different with smaller groups and, perhaps, with less animated conversation, said Chris Stiegler, who chairs the MFA program at MECA. "Historically, we're on top of one another in a small space talking intimately about the work. Now, we are designating the largest room on campus for these conversations, and those conversations will happen with social distancing and masks," he said.

MECA usually enrolls about 40 MFA students in the summer intensive. Having a smaller group take the course, which Stiegler assumes is related to the pandemic, makes it easier to manage safely.

Stiegler was anxious that first Monday back. Part of that was first-day jitters, but anxieties about the pandemic hovered over everything. When he addressed the group en masse, he told a "quippy" joke to break the ice. "I was nervous about going back to work, but once in the situation, it begins to feel good because it begins to feel not like normal, but like a new sense of community," he said.

No one has resisted the mask mandate, and everyone has cooperated with the rules, which have evolved based on feedback and concerns, he said. He thinks that's because everyone feels a shared sense of uncertainty and trepidation, as well as determination to make smart decisions and provide a model for other art schools about how to open and operate safely. "We are situated to be a leader here," Stiegler said.

He understands concerns about the fall, when many more students will be on campus, but thinks the school is ready to meet the challenge. "I imagine we will have to make minor adjustments to where we are physically as a graduate department, to make sure we give those students the space they need. But what these past weeks have shown me is that this school is resourceful and invested in making those adjustments," he said. "I am prepared for doing the work and everyone else feels prepared to do that work, and that work will continue and evolve from the fall into the spring. The one reality is, this is a shifting target and we all know that."

D'Amico said the best part of being back in school is feeling safe among other people. After months of isolation, human interaction feels both affirming and uplifting, she said. "It's been amazing being around people after not being around people. Regardless of the outside situation and even though we face hard restrictions inside, it has been really nice to be around people and feel a human connection again," she said.

This story was updated at 8:22 a.m. July 22 to reflect that Southern Maine Community College will hold some classes in person.

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