Building a Better Bridge: Helping Young Adults Enter and Succeed in College

Building a Better Bridge: Helping Young Adults Enter and Succeed in College
Building a Better Bridge: Helping Young Adults Enter and Succeed in College

College access and retention for youth who have dropped out of school have proven to be a daunting challenge. Yet, this issue must be addressed for the large numbers of these young people, as up to 40% of students in some school systems have left high school without a diploma. Without some form of postsecondary education, they will be greatly disadvantaged in the effort to become self-sufficient. The New York City Partnership for College Access and Success (NYCPCAS) is a pilot effort in which fifty youth who have left high school have enrolled in degree programs at New York City College of Technology (NYCCT), part of the City University of New York (CUNY). Another partner, the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC), has been working with the over-age and under-credited youth in their community to provide a pathway to college access and success. This forum examines the strategies that have contributed to the participants’ success, the partnership’s success, the lessons learned, and implications for further work.

Peter Kleinbard, Executive Director, Youth Development Institute (YDI), began by explaining the focus of YDI’s work. YDI works with a broad range of educational and community organizations to support the growth and development of young people.  “We help strengthen the quality of organizations and provide intensive support for youth service providers,” stated Kleinbard.  YDI works to improve community-based organizations that reach out to over-age and under-credited youths.  Kleinbard emphasized, “Sixty percent of New York City dropouts are too low achieving to even get into GED (General Education Development) programs. We have to establish a firm pathway to college.” He continued to explain that these youth think their options are limited and usually take low-paying jobs.

Kleinbard stated that approximately 20,000 of the 35,000 over-age and under-credited population in New York City will persist to postsecondary education and he predicts more will.  But, unfortunately, only 10% finish college.  “How can we help these young people get to the finish line? Those who don’t finish are at a great disadvantage,” stated Kleinbard. He believes that providing academic and institutional supports to these young people are essential. In addition, Kleinbard believes that caring adults and high expectations are critical to helping youth succeed.

Vivian Vazquez, Director of Community Education Pathways for Success (CEPS), Youth Development Institute (YDI), discussed the importance of NYCPCAS.  NYCPCAS seeks to increase opportunities for college access and success for youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are over-age, under-credited, or have dropped out and returned for a GED or diploma.

Vazquez explained that retention was a key concern at NYCCT. “Students enroll, but after the first semester, they drop out,” stated Vazquez. She described the commitment that NYCCT has made to improve the retention of the over-age, under-credited population. Vazquez provided two examples of success stories and described the direct services provided for these students that helped them succeed.  Individual counseling and a case management approach allow college and YDI personnel to discuss specific students and their progress. Monthly meetings look at student progress and concrete conversations involve sharing experiences on what has worked in the past in order to assist each individual. NYCCT attempts to ease barriers to success by providing supplemental funding for books and transportation, jobs, and internships. Vazquez asserted that requirements for the program remain high but a clear pathway to success is provided for the student to meet the expectations.

As a partner with local community-based organizations, NYCCT works to provide information about the school’s resources and even the application process.  In turn, community-based organizations help shepherd youth, who may have never thought college was an option, through the application process. Vazquez believes that the most effective way to help the under-age, under-credited population is to have strong partnerships to collaboratively address the issues facing each student.  Vazquez ended by asking, “How do we make sure that students stay at the center of the discussion?”

Dr. Bonnie August, Provost, New York City College of Technology (NYCCT), discussed the college participation in the partnership.  Dr. August believes that it is important to identify what enables students to be successful. As a commuter institution, Dr. August asked, “How do we incorporate the essence of college, given that we lack a residential campus?” Dr. August referred to research suggesting that institutions with on-campus housing tend to show stronger retention rates than postsecondary institutions without (e.g. community colleges).  She believes that the direct access, by subway, between Cypress Hills and NYCCT, helps to create an instant connection between the community and the school for the students.  In addition, counselors work at both the school and in the community to make further connections between the school and community.  Dr. August stressed the importance of partnerships with community-based organizations and explained that both work in a collaborative environment. “Community-based organizations help us see ourselves as a reflection of the community,” stated Dr. August.

Dr. August described the interaction between the school and its students.  She believes that clear structure and expectations for students will help them succeed, but that it is important to make sure the structure and expectations are reasonable. “How do we identify those students that can succeed? We have to look past the aggregate data and look at individual students and see features not in the data,” explained Dr. August. Also, she stressed the importance of recognizing that the GED is not a college-preparatory program and that policy needs to support college preparation.  She believes that financial aid is insufficient and that financial aid should cover the costs of non-credit courses, specifically, remedial coursework.  Especially with the over-age, under-credited population, remedial coursework can frustrate students and lead to dropping out.  Dr. August also questioned what constitutes success and how policymakers and decision-makers look at outcome and success rates. In addition, Dr, August asserted that support services are poorly funded and not well developed.

Emily Van Ingen, Director of Programs, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC), explained that the goal of CHLDC is to improve the neighborhood.  The CHLDC mission is to revitalize the Cypress Hills community through housing preservation, economic development, and the positive development of youth and families. The statistics in Cypress Hills are staggering.  Van Ingen explained that the unemployment rate is 13%, and only 35% of the adult population has graduated high school.  “We know that the best ticket to the progress and prosperity of Cypress Hills is a generation of young adults with college degrees who also commit to rebuilding their neighborhood. Indeed, the college degree is the most effective poverty fighting tool we know of, so we are not going to rest until every young person in Cypress Hills has access to college,” stated Van Ingen as a reason for the work of CHLDC.

Van Ingen explained that the partnership with NYCCT has been a positive experience for CHLDC and their community.  With the support of NYCCT, CHLDC has been able to not only help their young adults get to NYCCT, but also through the college process and experience.  As discussed by Dr. August, a team works to best serve the students, individually discussing student needs, challenges, and successes.  Van Ingen stressed the importance of NYCCT’s variety of support.  NYCCT provides admission support, academic advisement, mentoring, child-care, placement test support, an office for CHLDC staff on campus, and a program liaison.  Van Ingen explained that placement test support has allowed their staff to understand the tests more deeply so they can then better prepare their students.  In addition, Van Ingen noted that the support and buy-in from high-level administrators, including Dr. August, has been crucial to developing and implementing this program.

Of the many services that CHLDC provides, College STEPS is a program that provides individual counseling to assist with the admissions and financial aid process, workshops, and college trips. Van Ingen explained that having support services is a necessity because so many young people are disconnected from school or work. “One in six people ages 16-24 in New York City are disconnected, and they ‘are more likely than other young people to engage in activities that are destructive to themselves and their communities,’” stated Van Ingen. CHLDC also provides weekly individual counseling with a dedicated counselor, book vouchers each semester, employment opportunities, academic tutoring in the neighborhood, transportation support, peer support, and monthly events for the students. Van Ingen stressed the importance of providing weekly Metro cards for participants. Without then, she believes many students would not be able to attend NYCCT.

Lowell Herschberger, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC), discussed a specific CHLDC program called Moving Toward Achievement (MTA), which involves youth ages 17-24 who have been disconnected from traditional paths of transition from high school to college. Herschberger explained that the relationships between CHLDC and their students and their families had been well developed over many years, but CHLDC found that many of these young adults were still left unprepared for postsecondary education. Hershberger described the barriers for these young adults including undocumented status, 15% are pregnant or parenting, 85% are employed, half earn the primary household income, 10% are homeless, and 54% require remedial education. Herschberger discussed the lessons learned from working with this population.  He believes that individualized social support (e.g. going to homes and schools to follow students) is essential and that tangible supports are critical. “Teaching self-advocacy is the most important thing that we do,” stated Herschberger.

Herschberger recommends raising the age for sustained public school funding support to 24 from 21 to accommodate young adults similar to MTA participants. In addition, application fee waivers for all low-income students would ease one barrier to postsecondary access. Providing transportation support to this population would also ease another barrier to postsecondary access and success. On a broader scale, Herschberger believes that support is needed to create partnerships between community-based organizations and schools in order to ensure resources are being fully utilized. Also, Herschberger explained that support is needed to implement a credit-bearing summer bridge program and to make remediation courses free for students in order to help students make a successful transition into college while also successfully completing their course of study.

Highlights from the Question and Answer session

A question was asked about the importance of monetary support for books and Metro cards and which helps the most. Van Ingen responded that they work together and that providing both together is more effective than only being able to fund one or the other. She stressed the importance of providing this type of funding. Van Ingen added that it has been a struggle to continue providing book and transportation support, but they have been able to find a way because of its importance to student success.

A participant asked what element makes the partnership work. Vazquez believes that the commitment to the population and the work by all of the partners makes the partnership work. Vazquez added that talking to students and looking at where students want to go helps them understand that students need support at all levels. “We have to believe and not give up on [the students],” stated Vazquez. Van Ingen agreed that there is a deep commitment to young people by all the partners and that has a lot to do with strong partnership that exists. Dr. August added that each of the partners has something to learn from each other.


Peter Kleinbard is the Executive Director of the Youth Development Institute.  A graduate of Yale University, he worked with young people in the performing arts prior to coming to New York, where he joined the National Commission on Resources for Youth (NCRY). Later he became the Executive Director of NCRY, promoting practices of youth participation, employment and service in schools and community organizations.  In 1984, Mr. Kleinbard established the Young Adult Learning Academy (YALA) in New York City, a school that assists older youth who have dropped out of regular schools to enter employment and further education.  In 1996, he joined the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds where he conducted the largest national funding initiatives in education and career development for young adults. He joined the Fund for the City of New York in 2001, serving as Vice-President and Director of the Youth Development Institute.

Vivian Vazquez, Director, Community Education Pathways to Success, the Youth Development Institute.  Vivian has served as Director of the Community Education Pathways to Success (CEPS) program at the Youth Development Institute (YDI), where she develops and manages the CEPS model that serves ten community-based organizations. CEPS seeks to significantly improve the quality and scale of community-based educational services while providing systemic support to youth who have dropped out of school. CEPS takes a highly structured approach to youth services and focuses on young people who are ineligible for GED preparation due to low reading and math levels (below eighth grade).

CEPS also provides a route for young people with a GED to enter and remain in college.  In addition to her work with CEPS, Vivian directs the NYC Partnership for College Access and Success, a partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY) and two CBOs: Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation and Queens Community House.  The program focuses on college access and success for students who have attained their GED at one of the New York City Department of Education’s Young Adult Borough Centers.   Previous to her current work with YDI, Vivian worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), a settlement house in the Bronx, for nine years. She began at CAB as Director of Program Development and was responsible for bringing staff from CAB and the Girls’ Club together after its merger, developing new programs, and led staff development activities around outcomes with a focus on literacy and youth development. Vivian ended her tenure at CAB as Assistant Executive Director, ultimately managing two TASC programs, two community-based after-school programs, five adolescent development programs, a New Visions high school, and three senior centers.  Vivian received a Masters Degree from the New School for Social Research in Management and Urban Policy.

Dr. Bonne August has served as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) since September 2006. As the chief academic officer of the College, she oversees faculty members in 30 academic departments, providing guidance for the curricular and instructional development of City Tech’s schools of Arts & Science, Professional Studies, and Technology & Design, as well as the Division of Continuing Education. The college currently serves more than 27,000 students per year in degree and non-degree programs.

Dr. August had served as acting provost and vice president for academic affairs at City Tech since February 2005. Previously, she was chair of the English Department and professor of English at Kingsborough Community College/CUNY, where she had been on the faculty since 1982.

Her professional interests and publications include work on poetry, women writers, writing assessment, portfolio assessment, and faculty development. Dr. August’s most recent publication is a co-edited 2004 collection, titled Facilitating Collaboration: Issues in High School/College Professional Development. Other professional activities have included co-editing the Journal of Basic Writing and serving on the National Council of Teachers of English Standing Committee on Testing and Assessment, and the board of the Conference on Basic Writing. A member of the Executive Committee of the Association of Departments of English, Dr. August is serving as its president for 2008. She also co-chairs the Task Force to review the New York State K-12 standards in both English Language Arts and English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Dr. August holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York and received her MA and doctoral degrees in English and American Literature from New York University.

Emily Van Ingen is the Director of Programs for the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC) in Brooklyn, New York.  She joined the organization in 1994 as the Director of Youth and Family Services.  Currently, she is responsible for all of the agency’s programs including: youth and family services, economic development, housing counseling, community development and community organizing. She supervises the five program division directors of the agency and a staff team of 65 full time and 125 part time staff and is responsible for the management of an annual budget of over $5 million dollars.  Previously, Emily worked for the YMCA of Greater New York for five years as a Youth and Teen Director.  Emily holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Columbia University, and a Bachelors Degree in Human Services from Springfield College.

Lowell Herschberger is the Director of Young Adult Programs for the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC).  He is completing his fifth year at the organization and is responsible for the programs serving young adults ages 14 through 24.  These programs serve 900 youth annually with 400 of those being at a high-school based program and 500 at a community site.  Services include a wide range of academic, recreational, employment, personal counseling, and college access offerings that are all grounded in youth development principles and focused on successful transition to college or meaningful employment.   Lowell came to this work with six years of previous experience in youth development programs in Columbus, Ohio.  He holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from Ohio State University and a Bachelors in Social Work from Cedarville University.

Peter Kleinbard
Executive Director
Youth Development Institute
1440 Broadway, Suite 1601
New York, NY  10018

Vivian Vazquez
Community Education Pathways to Success
Youth Development Institute

1440 Broadway, Suite 1601
New York, NY  10018

Dr. Bonnie August
New York City College of Technology
300 Jay Street, N320
Brooklyn, NY  11201

Emily Van Ingen
Director of Programs
Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation
625 Jamaica Avenue
Brooklyn, NY  11208

Lowell J. Herschberger, MSW
Director of Young Adult Programs
Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation
625 Jamaica Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11208
718-647-2800 ext. 117



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