Op-Ed | CUNY is Key to Recovery That Lifts all New Yorkers

PHOTO – CUNY_Val_Student1920x1005 – 9-28-30-2022

As New York City continues to move past the pandemic, CUNY is taking lessons learned over the past two and a half years to transform itself into a system that better connects students to careers, which is critical to the city’s equitable recovery.

Last week, I outlined my vision of a new CUNY for business, political and civic leaders at a gathering of the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), inviting them to partner with us to train, hire, and mentor students. This is the best way to make sure that New York’s recovery is equitable. Our recovery has to include all New Yorkers, and especially those who have been underrepresented in career fields since long before the pandemic.

No institution is better positioned to do this — to lift all New Yorkers and the city itself — than CUNY because we represent the diversity of the city. Nearly 47% of our students are the first in their family to attend college, 80% are students of color and 50% work while they are attending school.

That is why CUNY is increasing innovative career success initiatives that are connecting more of our students to careers and strengthening the local economy.

Transforming CUNY, Lifting NYC

One of our most ambitious plans is the CUNY Inclusive Economy Initiative, a public-private partnership I announced with Mayor Adams last week that aims to connect 80% of CUNY graduates to careers by the end of the decade. The $16 million partnership will allow us to embed industry specialists on CUNY campuses and expand career and academic advising and vital paid internship opportunities — helping thousands of students embark on their careers and thousands of NYC businesses to grow inclusively. More than 3,000 students per year will participate in a program at five CUNY colleges.

In another initiative we announced last week, this one with New York City Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Andrew Kimball, CUNY will expand Green Technology Workforce Development programs in six colleges across the city, thanks to an investment of nearly $4 million in city funds. The future-focused programs will train students for climate-smart careers in the development of electric cars, offshore wind and solar, and other growth industries that come under the umbrella of renewable energy.

This investment not only helps our city battle climate change; it equips people of all backgrounds to compete for jobs in a critical, vastly growing sector that is sorely lacking in diversity.

We also last week announced the next phase of the successful CUNY Upskilling program, which we began early in the pandemic to equip adult New Yorkers with the preparation and connections they need to launch or advance careers in growing fields like health care, tech, construction and marketing. Some 7,000 New Yorkers have already been helped by the CUNY Upskilling program, including those who have lost jobs during the pandemic. So now we’re expanding it to allow another 2,000 people to take free or low-cost courses that will lead directly to jobs or provide credit toward future degrees.

CUNY has been busy. We have to be. The city is depending on us. This year we graduated almost 55,000 students, and the vast majority will stay in New York and join the local workforce. In a typical year, we graduate about half of all new nurses in the city, a third of new Department of Education teachers and more students with tech degrees than all of the undergraduate degrees awarded by Columbia University last year. We are so intertwined with the city’s economic fortunes and its social fabric; that is why I continue to believe so strongly that the city’s road to recovery from the pandemic runs through CUNY.

There will be more to come, and we see the whole city as our partner in this transformation. As I told the city leaders at the ABNY meeting: Every year, our 25 campuses turn out tens of thousands of graduates with the talent, skills and experience to help organizations of every kind thrive. Mentor our students and provide them with paid internships, and hire them. If you believe in New York City, invest in CUNY.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez is the chancellor of The City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban public university system in the United States.