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Study Links CUNY's Admissions Policy, Student Gains

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The practice of open admissions at the City University of New York has afforded long-term benefits to students who otherwise would not have been able to attend college, a study concludes.

Researchers David E. Lavin and David Hyllegard tracked the graduation rates and career paths of students entering through the university's controversial open-admissions policy. That policy, which virtually guarantees admission to New York City high school graduates who meet basic requirements, was enacted in 1970 over the protests of critics who feared that it would devalue a CUNY education.

The study is to be published this month by Yale University Press in a book, Changing the Odds: Open Admissions and the Life Chances of the Disadvantaged.

Mr. Lavin, a sociology professor at CUNY's graduate school and at Lehman College in the Bronx, said in an interview that the study should put many critics' fears to rest.

"What we learn from looking at that long-term view is that substantial numbers of students who wouldn't have gotten in have gone on to earn advanced degrees, which obviously suggests that CUNY credentials under open admissions continue to have value," he said.

The study found that out of roughly 100,000 first-time freshmen between 1970 and 1972, more than 68,000 eventually graduated, and roughly 27,000 of those were students who would not have entered without open admissions. And more than 21,000 students completed a graduate program, 5,200 of them "open admissions" beneficiaries.

Mr. Lavin said the educational opportunities provided by open admissions "translated into substantial rewards in the job market in terms of salary, so that these CUNY degrees continued to have some leverage."

The study found that in one year in the 1980s, open-admissions graduates earned roughly $67 million more than they would have had they not gone to college.

Findings Welcomed

The CUNY policy guarantees admission to the 10 four-year colleges in the 206,000-student public system for city high school graduates who have earned an 80 average or rank in the top third of their graduating classes. Before 1970, admissions requirements to these colleges varied, but generally called for high school averages in the high 80s.

In the first year the policy took effect, the freshman class was 75 percent larger than the year before. Minority enrollments in those four-year colleges, the study found, climbed from 4 percent in 1969 to an average of 16 percent between 1970 and 1972.

James P. Murphy, the chairman of the CUNY board of trustees, welcomed the findings. "This should embolden higher education generally, and particularly public education around the country--which has a broader responsibility to reach out to the poor and less prepared--to stay the course," he said in an interview.

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