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Getting Bang for the Bucks

Updated on July 17, 2017
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Jack is currently a volunteer at the Westchester County Archives. Jack has worked at IBM for over 28 years.


I recently got together with some of my old college teammates. We all attended CCNY in the 1970s. We were on the Men's Varsity Fencing Team. As we sat around and discuss our lives, it occurred to me how well we all turned out. In contrast, we are seeing how the current CUNY system is in a terrible budget crisis. What happened over these 40 years?

- July 2017


In economics and in government programs, we want to measure what is the maximum effect of our investments. When we spent 1 dollar for a program, what benefits can we expect from that dollar investment for the future? When resources are limited, we want to pick and choose the programs that will bring us the most results. In the 1970s, New York City has one of the best free public higher education program. The CUNY system included many colleges spread all over the 5 boroughs. The cream of the crop was CCNY. It was one of the highest academic senior college and one of the toughest to get into. Established in 1847, it brought education to the masses and produced many prominent graduates among them are Nobel laureates and captains of industry.

It gave the average population a chance to succeed in life by offering them a free 4 years of higher education. The ones that took advantage of this program like my teammates are the beneficiary. I could remember to this day, it cost me $58 per semester to register and the only other costs were paying for books.

At that time, a State University would cost about $3000 a year and then you need to pay room and board in addition. A private college would be double that amount or more. A free City College was a dream come true for many of us. Our families would not be burdened with a large debt. We got a great education and all graduated and found jobs that pay taxes.

In my group of about 10 people, we have engineers, architects, restaurant owner, supermarket manager and social worker. We all turned out fine. We raised families, and paid our taxes and became part of our thriving community. We bought homes and supported our local schools and churches.

In terms of getting a bang for the buck, it was well worth the cost of a free education for 4 years and then reaping the benefits over the next 40 years.

CCNY Shepard Hall

What Happened?

In my opinion, it started with a idea with good intentions. It was called open enrollment. Some people in city government decided to open the school system to everyone who wants to attend. Instead of only admiting people that have qualified based on some academic achievements. From the initial concept, it was motivated by what is called equality. Everyone should have "equal" access to higher education. It is not fair to keep students out because they lack some basic skills like reading and writing. In some poor inner city high schools, the students were dropping out at a high rate. They decided to lower the standards and allow many to graduate and some to get GED degrees. This is also a factor in lowering the quality of the student population. By instituting open enrollment in 1972, it did two things simultaneously. It increased the student enrollment substantially and costing the city more money to maintain the schools. It also lower the quality standards such that many would need remedial training before they can attend a freshman class. The academic level of the school had to suffer. Teachers were grading the class on a curve. When the class does not perform up to par, the grades were adjusted. Over the next few years, CUNY lost some accreditation due to open enrollmemt. For example, our sports teams were barred from NCAA tournaments as a result.

Over the next few decades, this experiment was a failure in my opinion. The overall quality went down. The City, for lack of resources, started charging tuition soon after in 1976. The emphasis was put on gender and race with all kind of new curriculums such as Black Studies and Asian Studies but they don't lead to a paying job. When budget became tight, the first to go is the extra curricular activities. Physical Education courses requirement was dropped. Is this the results we want?


In recent year, a scandal of momumental proportion involving the president of City College became public knowledge. This has lead to a criminal investigation that is ongoing. This has affected all areas of business in the school. Fundrasing efforts has slowed. Enrollment is down somewhat from the peak of 20,000 students. Most importantly, the level of academics and athletics are down. Title IX regulations has restricted some of the Men's teams while allowing women more participation In sports. Another good intention gone awry. The intent was to increase women's sports but ended with restricting and in some cases reducing Men's team for equal parity. There is only a fixed amount in the budget devoted to sports.

My wish going forward is common sense to prevail. We can achieve some improvements without strangling the whole system.

© 2017 Jack Lee


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