LaGuardia Community College, part of the City University of New York, is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges. Founded in 1971, the College has been recognized as an innovator in educating students who are under-prepared for college work and/or are not primary English speakers. A catalyst for development in western Queens and beyond, LaGuardia serves New Yorkers and immigrants from 160 countries through 50 majors and certificate programs, enabling career advancement and transfer to four-year colleges at twice the national average.
Written By: Randy Fader-Smith, LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, NY
While most high school seniors cannot wait to grab their diplomas and leave their high school days behind, over 60 percent of the students in Middle College High School and International High School’s last graduating class, came back for a fifth year.
Administrators at these five-year institutions, located on the campus of LaGuardia Community College, say the reasons are varied, but the main lure is the College’s very attractive financial packages that are offered at a time when college tuition and fees are off the charts. The fifth-year students, many of whom have already amassed college credits from LaGuardia, will continue to take tuition-free courses. Also included are free books and Metrocards.
The Early College at Middle College exemplifies LaGuardia’s 40-year history of pioneering new educational methods to respond to evolving student needs. When Middle College Early College was established in 2002 it became the first early college in the nation, and remains the model for the 201 early college schools throughout the nation. Following this paradigm, all early colleges have their students enroll in high school courses in the ninth and tenth grades, and by the second half of the tenth, encourage them to begin taking college courses.
“They are staying for many different reasons, but the prevailing reason is the sweet financial inducements,” said Linda Siegmund, principal of Middle College High School. “By staying one more year, some students can get enough credits to enter college as an advanced sophomore, while others can obtain enough credits to graduate LaGuardia with an associate’s degree.”
Brandon Ashley is one of those students. Brandon was planning on going to a state college after graduating from Middle College when his parents convinced him that it made financial sense to stay a fifth year. Entering the fall semester with 27 college credits, Brandon is on track to receive his associate’s degree by the time he completes his fifth year in August of 2011. “It is a package deal that you cannot beat,” said Brandon, who plans on transferring to an upstate college to pursue an engineering degree.
Jose Mendoza also saw the financial benefits of a fifth year, but he said what also helped make up his mind was the criminal justice major offered at LaGuardia. With 30 credits already under his belt, Jose explained that by the end of August he will have his associate’s degree, and will then go on to transfer to John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s baccalaureate program the following fall.
Both high schools have worked closely with LaGuardia to provide the students with a positive college experience. While students can take any college course offered by LaGuardia, they can also take courses developed and team taught by college and high school instructors as well as college courses taught by certified high school teachers.
“There has always been a solid partnership between LaGuardia and the high schools,” said Dr. Peter Katopes, Interim President. “Through this collaboration, we will continue to share expertise and resources and provide these students with a fruitful college experience.”
The early colleges have built into their programs a strong support system, a feature that Ms. Siegmund said is another reason students stay. During this transitional year, students participate in a teacher-run seminar several times a week where they discuss their college work. “The teachers have the syllabi of each student, and know how each student is doing in their classes,” she said. “This prevents a student from falling through the cracks.” Dr. Cecilia Cunningham, Director of the Middle College National Consortium, noted that the support system is one of the reasons for the students’ 80 percent college course pass rate. “It just points to the fact that kids need a lot more mandated support during that transition to a new institution.”
Ann Trzcinski, a Middle College teacher, noted that the fifth year can also help those students who are not quite sure what academic direction to take. Patrick Managhan, a fifth-year student, said that he was “lost” during his senior year so his teachers encouraged him to go the fifth year so that he could explore his options. “They were very supportive and believed in me,” said Patrick who is taking English, history and Introduction to Language this semester. “That is why they have this program. They want us to succeed in life.”
Students at International High School are staying for the same reasons, but John Starkey, a Program Leader, said that for these students, who had been in this country four years or less when they enrolled, the fifth year gives them more time to improve their English. Mr. Starkey described Tenzin Lekze, a native of Nepal who immigrated to the U.S. six years ago, as a shining star. “She would have been successful at any college she attended, but chose to work toward her associate’s degree while strengthening her English language skills.” Tenzin said, “Having one more year to improve my English, will give me the added confidence I need when I transfer to a four-year college.”
It is clear that the fifth year at LaGuardia Community College is an outstanding path for many Middle-Early college students.