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CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College Accepts First-Ever Community College Transfer Students

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For the first time, Macaulay has enrolled a small number of community college students in a bid to add diversity to the honors college and expand opportunities to deserving students who, for a variety of reasons, have taken indirect routes to college

From its opening in the fall of 2001, Macaulay Honors College adhered to a policy — spelled out in its charter — that restricted admission to exceptional students who enrolled directly from high school. Transfer students weren’t allowed.

Creating a new, highly selective college that offered financial and academic support to New York’s most promising students was a landmark in The City University of New York’s broad efforts in those years to raise its standards as a top-flight public university. But Macaulay’s faculty have long had reservations about the honors college’s unusual no-transfers policy. Excluding nontraditional students — those whose lives after high school were sidetracked by life circumstances, for instance, or immigrants who opted to start their American education at a community college — seemed inconsistent with CUNY’s mission of expanding access to education for students from diverse backgrounds and experience.

That point of view gained traction in recent years and now, for the first time, Macaulay has enrolled a small number of community college students in a bid to add diversity to the honors college and expand opportunities to deserving students who, for a variety of reasons, have taken indirect routes to college. Under a pilot program called Macaulay Bridge, 18 carefully selected sophomores — 10 from Bronx Community College and eight from Borough of Manhattan Community College — will earn their associate’s degrees in the spring and then continue as Macaulay at Lehman College students.

All 18 students are members of minority groups; most are Hispanic or black and a few are immigrants or children of immigrants from countries including India, Yemen and the West African nation of The Gambia. Macaulay’s overall enrollment, in comparison, is currently about 50 percent white, 34 percent Asian, 9 percent Hispanic and 7 percent black.

“The Macaulay Honors College is one of the jewels of CUNY, and we’re excited by the prospects for increasing access to it for a diverse group of transfer students,” said Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz. “Building a bridge between our community colleges and Macaulay reflects our core mission of expanding educational opportunity for New Yorkers.”

Macaulay Dean Mary C. Pearl said, “Our motivation is to make Macaulay a school that represents every segment of New York and better reflects the demographic profile of the senior colleges from which we draw. The diversity of our Macaulay Bridge students in terms of ethnic background, age and life experience not only expands opportunity for them, but we think it’s just a better education for all Macaulay students — the more diverse our classes are.”

Traditional Macaulay students apply as high school seniors to any of the eight CUNY senior colleges, which partner with the honors college and serve as the students’ home campuses.

Admissions decisions are made by the senior colleges, and accepted students are granted free tuition and other benefits, both financial and academic — from free laptops to personalized mentoring and priority course registration. Macaulay’s 2,000 students take most of their courses on their home campuses and come together for Macaulay seminars throughout their four years. They earn joint bachelor degrees from their senior colleges and the honors college.

Admission to Macaulay is highly competitive and attracts high school students with Ivy-level credentials. Last year about 8 percent of its 6,217 applicants were accepted and those admitted had average GPAs of 94.4 and SAT scores of 1416. But barring transfer students has been a blind spot with an unintended effect, Pearl said: “While schools like Vassar, Wesleyan and Columbia have been accepting CUNY community college students as transfers, here was CUNY’s own honors college not having access to them.”

Joseph Ugoretz, Macaulay’s senior associate dean and chief academic officer, added: “Our traditional model of a Macaulay student is 18 years old, just out of high school. But there are really strong, academically talented students at the community colleges for whom life got in the way, for whatever reason: The death of a parent, the birth of a child, immigration status. We wanted those students to have the chance to get the package of benefits and creative, rigorous education we provide at Macaulay. Also this is a group of students with a rich diversity of experience that many of our students don’t have when they come to us. So the program is good for them, and they’re good for the program.”

Named dean in 2016, Pearl advanced the long-simmering idea of opening the door to exceptional community college students. She garnered support from the Macaulay board, CUNY leaders — and, crucially, funding from the Petrie Foundation and the Mellon Foundation — for a pilot program that would cover tuition and other support for up to 20 students. Lehman College, which had the smallest number of Macaulay students at 20, agreed to double its cohort, and BCC and BMCC were chosen as the pipeline campuses.

An effort to identify and recruit potential applicants began in the fall of 2017. First-year BCC and BMCC students with GPAs above 3.5 were invited to apply to a program that promised “an extraordinary and highly personalized undergraduate experience” with the financial support to allow them to graduate “debt-free and ready to lead.” The requirements included recommendations, writing samples and interviews, a rigorous process that eventually produced the 18 Macaulay Bridge scholars.

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