Persistence and Success: What I’d love to see more of

As our Mappings class has been focusing on “Professors & Persistence,” I’ve found myself hyper alert to the academic and life obstacles orbiting around our students and interfering with their success in college. Evan Misshula, alongside Natalie Oshukany and Rachel Oppenheimer, caught the class’ attention with some staggering statistics about CUNY students.

  • 47% come from a household that earns less than 25K
  • 78% work to pay living expenses
  • 37% don’t have wifi or broadband internet at home
  • 88% live at home with family
  • 27% spend more than ten hours studying outside of class
  • 70% do not participate in any extra curricular activities

After processing this information I found myself thinking much more actively about how these variables were effecting my students success; how extra curricular activities and school spirit could and would activate a richer¬† learning experience; how working a full-time or part-time job was eating away at my students study time; how our campus wifi problems are much more than an inconvenience for me when I can’t send an email through my iPhone; how living at home might be a burden rather than a privileged; how my students might be putting in a two hour walk to campus because they can’t afford a metrocard (which has been the case for two of my students, as far as I know, and which is a problem we could not resolve through any campus programs).

These questions make me feel helpless. They embody a much larger issue that I can’t seem to change–one that is rooted in policy and bureaucracy–two components that are eternally frustrating and difficult to challenge when you’re one person. But, I could start by thinking of ways to bring more opportunities to my classrooms (using me as the vessel), so that these disparities could begin to even out for my students in some way.


70% do not participate in any extra curricular activities

My assumption is that many CUNY students tend to think of CUNY colleges as commuter schools, where we make a stop to class and continue on to our job, to pick up our children, interpret mail or leases for family, do a quick grocery shopping, make dinner, or go do whatever next thing needs to be done. Extra curriculars are time suckers and seem to have no explicit rewards. Although, it’s been said that extra curricular activities for undergraduates include:

the development of social and leadership skills, improved educational aspirations and academic achievement, enhanced decision making skills regarding career and life planning, heightened self-confidence, stronger relationships with faculty, the ability to see course curriculum as more relevant, and further success after college (p. 17). Pritchard and Wilson (2003) also list improved satisfaction with college and higher retention rates, increased confidence in academic ability, and a stronger drive to achieve as benefits of student involvement. (full text here)

While the research suggests extra curriculars provide students with invaluable learning opportunities, income inequality needs to be addressed in order to unmask the very real issue that is clouding our classrooms, our culture and our policies. I started to think about how I could enhance my students’ overall college experience by showing them that Kingsborough could offer them professional advancement in conjunction with academic advancement. Perhaps, if the rewards were greater and included financial and academic incentives, we’d see a growth in academic engagement and personal connections. The goal of the institution is not only to arm students with intellect, but to prepare them and guide them through the various professional terrain they will eventually embark on and we probably need to think bigger, although not necessarily cost increasing.

Our campus has a “Reading and Writing Center” where I used to be a tutor. I took this job when I was between undergrad and graduate school.¬† The philosophy of the center is to guide students through a peer to peer learning experience, and professors, adjuncts and fellows are not encouraged to apply if they are currently teaching in some capacity in the school. The pay rate is based on your level of education (in 2011, Undergraduate= $8, BA=$11, MA=$12, PhD=$13-$14), and in many cases are offering the same pay which many of our students are currently earning. I have some great writers, readers, researchers in my Freshman Comp classes and many of them would be great tutors. It could 1) offer them a chance to serve the greater community and share their wealth of knowledge and skills 2) offer them additional financial support to help them support their needs 3) help them strengthen their own academic skills through peer review and guidance 4) give them a lens to reflect on their best learning practices and see how others learn 5) give them a reason to stay on campus and engage in other facets of college life or just simply utilize the resources the campus has to offer if they need them 6) show them that the school can and will invest in them if they are interested and motivated 7) develop and maintain relationships with other faculty 8) nurture their networking skills 9) help them build their resume and professionalism¬† 10) help them navigate through employment application processes, interviews and other obstacles that may arise. (I’m pretty sure I could keep going, but you see how many objectives could overlap)

While thinking about this large statistic I decided to ask one of my Freshman Comp students if she’d be interested in working at the center, and she was! One of the prerequisites to work there is to have completed the Freshman Comp sequence, so we’ll need to wait until she concludes my class before pursuing the application. I intend on asking 2-4 other students by the time the semester ends and I plan on going through the process with them so they see they have my full support and recommendation. While they’ll have to apply and submit a writing sample just like all other candidates (in house and from outside), I believe my direction will support their persistence and confidence while they embark of this potentially stressful endeavor.

The question that has grown out of this spontaneous idea: How can professional elevation within the institution (determined by academic progress) simultaneously impact student success in the classroom, retention, attendance, college completion and professional success? Would a job like this make a difference for our students, financially and academically? What could they gain or lose? How would working with like minded students affect their choices and dreams? NPR recently showcased a study Students’ Work Ethics Affected By Peer Groups–Desire to be Popular. Perhaps, we need to be thinking about bridging all the gaps and encouraging a new mindset between students, so they influence each other to make beneficial choices for themselves.








The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309