Proposed by Speaker and funded in city budget due to Council’s advocacy, $4.4 Million CUNY Reconnect program aims to start by bringing back 10,000 working-age students who left CUNY without degree

New York, NY – The City University of New York is launching an initiative this fall semester to re-enroll thousands of New Yorkers, who earned some college credits but left school before completing a degree. The $4.4 million CUNY Reconnect pilot program was funded in the Fiscal Year 2023 city budget at the behest of advocacy by the New York City Council and will seek to help these former students secure degrees or other credentials that improve their economic mobility and advance the city’s post-pandemic recovery. The program was envisioned by the Center for an Urban Future’s research and first proposed by Speaker Adams at the Association for a Better New York’s Power Breakfast and in her State of the City address.

CUNY Reconnect plans to begin by enrolling 10,000 returning students, starting in this fall semester. CUNY estimates that there are approximately 700,000 working-age New Yorkers, who have earned credits and could return to finish their degrees or earn certificates that would help them enhance their careers. This includes students who left college during the pandemic, as well as those who withdrew years or even decades ago. The initiative will also conduct outreach to students who graduated from high school during the pandemic and were unable to attend college because of personal circumstances.

“Expanding opportunities for working New Yorkers is critical to supporting our communities and advancing our local economy,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams. “CUNY Reconnect, which I highlighted in my 2022 State of the City address, is an innovative initiative that can help working-age New Yorkers increase their earning potential by returning to earn a degree. CUNY Reconnect is designed to create economic opportunities for New Yorkers, especially Black and Latina women and other women of color who disproportionately comprise students with college credits but no degree. The Council championed this $4.4 million pilot initiative in the city budget that will serve thousands of returning students this fall, and hopefully tens of thousands more in future expansions. I thank CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodríguez for his partnership, the Center for an Urban Future for their important work to advance this idea, and my Council colleagues for their commitment to supporting advancement opportunities for New Yorkers.”
“We know how hard it is to restart a college education. By recruiting former college students and making it easier for them to return to school, CUNY Reconnect will help working adults obtain the education they need for better-paying jobs, which will fuel the city’s economic recovery from the pandemic,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “Returning to college after a significant break can be daunting, but by creating a welcoming and personalized readmission process, we can ease that transition for many thousands who stand to benefit and put them on the pathway to life-changing opportunity. We thank Speaker Adams and the City Council for their partnership in creating and funding a bold initiative that can help so many New Yorkers as well as the city itself.”

“As the largest public urban university in the nation, CUNY has long been a proven stepping stone to class mobility for New Yorkers,” said Council Member Justin Brannan, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Finance. “The institution has been nothing short of a resounding success story for our city. I can’t think of a better way to double down on CUNY than to proactively reach out to students who could not finish their degrees for one reason or another and helping them across the finish line. I was proud to prioritize CUNY Reconnect in budget negotiations, because funding this initiative means promising that your chance to improve your life with a CUNY degree never expires. That’s a down payment on accessible higher education, upward economic mobility, and a more prosperous future for NYC.”

“As Chair of the Higher Education Committee at the New York City Council, I am proud of the $4.4 million for CUNY Reconnect that the City Council secured that will impact thousands of working age adults New Yorkers by allowing them to complete their degrees,” said Council Member Eric Dinowitz, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Higher Education. “The enduring impacts that education provides will change the lives of so many, providing career development opportunities, social mobility and greater economic security. Many working adults who had to sacrifice their college goals will now have the opportunity to continue their education. I want to thank Speaker Adrienne Adams and my colleagues in the Council, especially the Higher Education Committee, who made this program a reality. I am thrilled that so many New Yorkers will be able to resume their education by going back to the classroom.”

Specialized Support

To launch the initiative, CUNY Reconnect has identified more than 100,000 students who left CUNY colleges without graduating in the past five years. The program is deploying a team of CUNY Reconnect “navigators” to contact these former students, encourage them to resume their education and provide individualized, hands-on guidance for enrolling in the degree or certificate program that is most beneficial for them. The initiative will expand its outreach to other populations of prospective students in the fall.

The program will offer returning students credit for prior learning (which enables students to receive credit for previous education, and for work experience and professional credentials outside the classroom), along with the flexibility of online programs and specialized supports including logistical, financial and academic guidance, as well as childcare.

The CUNY Reconnect navigators will help prospective students apply for New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), which has for the first time been expanded by Governor Hochul to include tens of thousands of students attending part-time, and to identify and apply for other applicable scholarships and stipends.

Once they are enrolled at one of CUNY’s two- or four-year colleges, students will continue to receive guidance and support, including access to workforce experiences in high-demand fields such as health care and tech.

Never too Late

CUNY Reconnect is designed to reach New Yorkers like Tom Reingold, who left Hunter College in 1987 without earning his degree and returned 32 years later, after a long but ultimately unfulfilling career as a computer programmer and administrator. “I knew I needed some kind of change, and my wife and friends reminded me that I had always wanted to be a teacher,” Reingold said. “To do that, I needed a degree and I’d heard that at CUNY they let you pick up where you left off, unlike some other places. That turned out to be true, and it was a big deal for me. I was allowed to fulfill the requirements that were in effect when I was in school, with just one or two new computer science requirements that I thought were totally reasonable.”

Reingold returned to Hunter as a part-time student in the fall of 2019 and this spring he earned his bachelor’s degree and took a big step toward his new career as a teacher. This fall, he’ll be a full-time teacher in a New York City public school.

Neshaly Perez, who left Bronx Community College at the height of the pandemic and had no plans of returning, has returned to the school this semester after she recently got an email from a CUNY Reconnect navigator. Perez has just five classes to complete before she can graduate, and was interviewed by the Daily News.

The partnership with the City Council was inspired by a report issued in January by the Center for an Urban Future, which highlighted a similar program in Tennessee that could be modeled to reach hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers of working age. Its research underscored that women of color, especially Black and Latina women, made up a disproportionate number of this former student population, making such a program a vehicle to advance economic equity in the City. The report indicated that thousands of New Yorkers have enough credits to bring them within sight of a degree and urged the city to make a concerted effort to bring these working adults back to college and provide them with the comprehensive support and tools they need to earn degrees or other credentials.

“This is such an important step to creating a more equitable economy in New York,” said Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director, Center for an Urban Future. “By helping adults who have some college credits but no degree to return to CUNY and complete a credential, it will enable thousands of mostly low-income New Yorkers to get on the path to better jobs and a more financially secure life. We applaud Speaker Adams for making this happen.”

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university, a transformative engine of social mobility that is a critical component of the lifeblood of New York City. Founded in 1847 as the nation’s first free public institution of higher education, CUNY today has seven community colleges, 11 senior colleges and seven graduate or professional institutions spread across New York City’s five boroughs, serving over 243,000 undergraduate and graduate students and awarding 55,000 degrees each year. CUNY’s mix of quality and affordability propels almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all the Ivy League colleges combined. More than 80 percent of the University’s graduates stay in New York, contributing to all aspects of the city’s economic, civic and cultural life and diversifying the city’s workforce in every sector. CUNY’s graduates and faculty have received many prestigious honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and 26 MacArthur “Genius” Grants. The University’s historic mission continues to this day: provide a first-rate public education to all students, regardless of means or background.