The City College Advantage

by Kevin Foster, Dean, Colin Powell School

by Kevin Foster, Dean, Colin Powell School

I hope you read the recent report about how vital CCNY is, in propelling so many of our students out of poverty.  The report, led by Stanford economist Raj Chetty*, showed that 76% of City College students who started from the lowest 20% of income end up at least an entire quintile higher, so neither the lowest nor the second-lowest 20%.  That report ranks CCNY #2 for mobility in the entire country.  We are all proud of our contributions to this effort.  But let me link that report to other strands of economic research.

That leap in income is tremendously rare.  Most people stay in the same quintile where they start and of those who move, most move just one quintile up or down – very few take more than one step away.  You may remember hearing Raj Chetty's name last month, documenting what David Leonhardt called the "end of the American Dream," as he tabulated data that showed people born in 1950 had nearly an 80% chance of making more money than their parents, while those born in 1980 had just a 50% chance.  (He also provided data about the geography of opportunity: there are some parts of the country that do better than others.)  CCNY's American Dream Machine is enormously difficult; it was always tough but it is becoming even more so.

We can further refine by noting that for many people of color, the Horatio Alger-style American Dream was always more ethereal.  Although the study does not highlight this, we know that African-Americans and Hispanics are over-represented in the lowest income quintile.  City College has been a leader in offering opportunity.

Documentation from Thomas Piketty showed that this slowdown in intergenerational mobility is not unique to the US.  Diminishing opportunity goes along with increasing inequality throughout most of the developed world, as the 1% of the 1% get more and more resources.

Further, economic research has documented a strong link from education to economic growth, so the fruits of this opportunity do not only adhere to the individual but spill over throughout the community and the nation.  Broader opportunity is not only more just - "Open the doors to all. Let the children of all the rich and the poor take their seats together and know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct and intellect, Townsend Harris" - but also good for the wallet.

The same statistic, that most people stay near the quintile they started in, in turn means that the CCNY miracle has very long-lasting effects.  Those CCNY alumni who are now much better off than their parents may have kids of their own, and these kids are likely to be much better off than their grandparents ever dreamed.

The efforts of the community here at City College will have tremendous effects for many generations to come and I am very proud to contribute to this mighty endeavor.

* Raj Chetty is a superstar in economics, who won the John Bates Clark Medal in 2013 (given to economists under 40; the award implies good odds to someday win a Nobel prize). He has taught at Berkeley, Harvard (where he was one of the youngest tenured faculty in the history of Harvard's economics department), and now Stanford.

Alumni and the Growth of Our School

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School  

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School

This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting a group of young alumni from across the different departments of the Colin Powell School. I wanted to pull them together to discuss recent developments at the school - programs we have been building, our successes and our challenges. It was a gathering that in part advanced one of my early goals as dean of the school: to hold regular consultations with concerned alumni, share information, and ask them to think with me about the development of our school, and how they can help.

I wanted, first off, to remind the assembled friends of the great mission our school’s founding ushered in. Budget shortfalls have made for some stiff headwinds since that May day in 2013, but it remains true that founding and developing the Colin Powell School provided the chance to imagine the very best kind of education for our students—an education that deeply engages them in issues that will shape their lives and prepares them for service in leadership positions.  I wanted to remind them that the dreams and aspirations of current students are no different than those that drew generations to CCNY over the decades. I wanted to excite them with the possibility that each year we will build something new to burnish the legacy of their alma mater.  And I wanted emphatically to say how important they would be in that process.

I set out to tell them about our activities and programs, because you can’t ask people to lend a hand with your work without making a place for them in that work.  And I was absolutely asking them to help.

Alumni should be key partners in building out the vision of a school.  They carry the school’s name into the workforce, and help shepherd its reputation in the broader society. Beyond the campus, alumni networks are professional as well as social, and each aspect lies rooted in both memory and aspiration: the memory of college as a transformational experience, and the aspiration to build on what they found on campus, and make it more vibrant for a new generation. Alumni networks, like colleges and families,  thrive in the act of renewing themselves.

We have a vision for our alumni.  We anticipate that many will need our help over the first several years.  They will need letters of recommendation, help accessing transcripts, and a way into a professional network of other Colin Powell School graduates.  In those years, we may ask them to help our students in practice interviews, or perhaps speak on a panel describing their transition into the workforce.  As time passes, our alumni will be in position to offer internships to our students, and eventually to hire graduates or direct them to other professional opportunities. Eventually, we hope Colin Powell School graduates will repay our investment in them with donations to support future generations.  

We also, however, need to nurture the outwardly-looking aspect of our alumni networks. I asked the group to help us build a vibrant professional network of Colin Powell School alumni, willing to help recent graduates get into the workplace, able to provide internship placements and mentoring, proud to associate themselves with our school and its mission.  I asked them to tell former classmates about our work and invite them to get in touch. I enjoined them, In their workplace, to seek out other Colin Powell School graduates, and  lookout for those that will join them in the future. I wanted to draw them into a vision of an alumni network that was deeply informed about and involved in the life of the school, dedicated to serving the needs of our campus and, in the process, elevating what it means to be a Colin Powell School alumnus.

Finally, I wanted to remind our alumni, from across the generations, that if they graduated with a degree in any social science programs or departments (political science, psychology, economics and business, anthropology, International studies, sociology or Latin American and Latino Studies) they are Colin Powell School alumni.  Growing a school means both leaning forward to anticipate its future and reaching back to gather up its past.  As we’ve been saying to social science alumni for three years now: you are the Colin Powell School.

I left the evening feeling that we made a good start, and that if nostalgia and good society perhaps provide the bedrock of alumni affections, it’s my duty to nurture our networks with periodic meetings designed to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how they can help.  We’ll be holding more of these alumni meetings in the months and years to come.  I hope when your invitation comes, you’ll answer my call.