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Op-Ed: Working Towards College Access for All

Like many New Yorkers, I was the first in my family to go to college.

It didn’t even occur to me until midway through high school, when one of my teachers told me I’d need to go to college if I wanted to follow my own dream of becoming a teacher. She made college a reality for me. I know first-hand how important it is to have teachers who make college a reality for their students.

More than 50 years after my teachers put me on the path to college and a great career, we’re making College Access for All a key part of our Equity and Excellence for All agenda for New York City schools. No matter their neighborhood or zip code, every student should have the opportunity to go to college when they graduate high school.

The numbers are clear: we’re seeing results and we’re closer than ever to achieving this vision.

Our high school graduation rate is at a record high of 72.6 percent. A record high 55 percent of our students are enrolling in college or other post secondary programs.

In the first year of College Access for All, New York City made the CUNY application free for over 30,000 students; made the SAT exam available free during the school day for all high school juniors; and brought over 20,000 middle school students on trips to college campuses. We also launched or expanded a number of citywide events including our first-ever College and Career Month; citywide parent workshops on applying to college in a number of languages; and College Application Week, Financial Aid Awareness Month and College Decision Day.

Last week, we released the annual New York City School Survey, and we heard about the changes that our students, families, and teachers are seeing. For example, 82 percent of our high school students said that school staff helped them consider which colleges to apply to, up from 75 percent the year before. 93 percent of parents said that their child’s school kept them on track to college and careers, up from 92 percent the year before.

This fall, we’ll expand College Access for All programs to reach over 600 middle and high schools. At the middle school level, this means more students visiting college campuses – over 40,000 next year – and more family events on what college means and how to get there. At our high schools, this means new funding, college coaches, and teacher training to boost graduation and college enrollment rates. Across the City, it means increased opportunity for our students every day.

Yet none of these changes are possible without the strength of our educators, communities, and, most importantly, families.

As the school year approaches, I encourage families to start thinking about your child’s plans for college and careers, after they graduate high school. Encourage your child to do the same – such conversations will give them goals to reach for, with your support. When school’s back in September, reach out to your parent coordinator and ask them about how college can be a reality for your child.

Our City is home to generations of future leaders – if we work together to support them, I know that they will realize their full potential.

Carmen Fariña is the Schools Chancellor for the New York City Department of Education 

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