CUNY Reconnect will work if students are accommodated post re-enrollment


Armin Rimoldi | Pexels

Tahreem Ashraf

A new initiative called CUNY Reconnect will attempt to get thousands of students who dropped out back to school to complete their degrees.

A team of outreach staff will contact students who earned a few college credits but ultimately did not graduate.

Eighty-nine percent of first-generation students of low-income families tend to drop out of college, according to a study by Think Impact.

When these students, encumbered by social and financial pressures, are given the opportunity to continue their studies with sufficient academic and financial support, thousands of families will be offered a shot at upward social mobility.

“Returning to college after a significant break can be daunting,” CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodriguez said. “By creating a welcoming and personalized retrial, we can ease this transition for many thousands who will benefit and put them on the path to life-changing opportunities.”

CUNY Reconnect was inspired by a report released by the Centre for an Urban Future in early 2022, titled “Reengaging Adult Learners to Complete College Degrees.”

The report revealed that nearly 700,000 working-age New York City residents have completed a few college courses but do not have a degree.

“The enduring impacts that education provides will change the lives of so many, providing career development opportunities, social mobility and greater economic security,” Council Member Eric Dinowitz said.“Many working adults who had to sacrifice their college goals will now have the opportunity to continue their education.

At the height of the pandemic, student enrollment rates lowered when many felt unable to continue their education while facing various mental health, financial and personal issues.

Undergraduate enrollment dropped 4.7% in spring 2022, meaning the collective student body is now 9.4 % or 1.4 million students smaller than prior to the pandemic, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Neshaly Perez dropped out of Bronx Community College during the peak of the pandemic. She was approached by a CUNY Reconnect navigator who provided her with guidance in terms of how to re-enroll as well as “logistical support and encouragement.”

“I think that’s super helpful when you’re feeling lost, to have someone that can guide you,” she told The Daily News. “That’s a good feeling, to get back on my feet.”

A team of 50 navigators trained to assist incoming students through academic and financial hurdles have already directly reached out to 10,000 students out of an estimated 100,000 CUNY dropouts.

However, the needs of the returning students should be addressed before their return to campus in order for CUNY Reconnect to succeed.

Some necessary accommodations might include more financial aid, evening classes, accelerated degree programs or online/hybrid options; especially for those who have kids or work full-time.

A similar program initiated in Tennessee in 2017 helped thousands of first-time students or those who had previously dropped out to attend community college or other private and public institutions tuition-free.

Enrollment in the Tennessee Reconnect program had declined by 46% from 2018-2020, according to the Tennessee Comptroller, likely due to COVID-19 and a flawed incentive system.

66% of the applicants were denied entry into the program, while another 25% of enrolled students were no longer eligible for grants because they failed to adhere to a stringent six-credit requirement due to “work and family responsibilities.”

Moreover, students had to pay $400 in additional fees and expenses out of pocket each semester.

Thus, in order to be effective, CUNY Reconnect should also make sure to accommodate students after they’re enrolled, not just while applying.