Higher Education: A Key to the Bronx Renaissance

12/08/2017 02:01 pm ET

I am heartened that the Bronx Renaissance finally is here. New businesses are starting up and neighborhoods are being revitalized. But without bold intervention, many Bronx residents are unlikely to benefit broadly from the economic upturn. The statistics are sobering: today the Bronx is the poorest county in New York State. It ranks near the bottom five percent of counties in the nation for economic mobility for children in poor families.

It should then come as no surprise that the borough lags in educational attainment. Of New York State’s 62 counties, the Bronx is next to last in that category with only 27.7 percent of residents attaining an associate’s degree or higher. Two trends make the current situation ripe for intervention: the largest demographic living in poverty in the Bronx are females aged 25 to 34, while the school-age population in the borough is the fastest growing in the state.

According to U.S. Census data, more than half of Bronxites 25 and older, have at least a high school diploma or equivalency, but have not earned a bachelor’s degree. That’s about 462,000 residents.

Imagine for a moment: if those 462,000 Bronxites found a true path to attaining a bachelor’s degree, the benefits would be staggering. They would generate an additional $6 billion in annual income. Our city, state and country would gain $2.8 billion in tax revenue.

More than 57,000 residents would be lifted out of poverty and 43,000 would qualify for employer-provided health insurance. And there’s more: nearly 66,000 fewer Bronxites would require Medicaid, more than 41,000 fewer would require Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and 12,000 fewer would require housing assistance.

With a college degree in hand, their children and generations to come would break the cycle of poverty. The challenge is not as daunting as it seems, and I am confident that with the right focus and investment we can expand educational opportunities for many borough residents. And that’s exactly what we are doing at Lehman College.

The Equality of Opportunity Project recently ranked Lehman as fourth in the nation for its role in moving large numbers of low-income students into the middle class in a borough it called “among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder.”

Building on this achievement, we are now embarking on a bold plan that aims to double the number of high-quality degrees and credentials Lehman students will earn. Our goal to confer 90,000 high market value degrees or professional credentials by 2030 is audacious yet achievable. We call it 90x30.

If successful, 90x30 will make a significant impact on the economic and social mobility of Lehman’s students – more than half of whom are Bronx residents – by propelling them into the ranks of well-qualified, job market-ready wage earners and positioning them well for further education. By extension, it has the potential to turn the tide for thousands of families throughout the borough.

To meet this goal, the College is committed to expanding student access, increasing completion rates, and reducing the time it takes to earn a degree or credential. We are implementing innovative pedagogical practices to improve student learning outcomes, launching cutting-edge programs in fields like augmented and virtual reality, and strengthening partnerships with local industry to secure good-paying internships and jobs for our students and graduates.

Strengthening relationships with local high school students and their parents also is key – our aim is to put both parent and child on a path to a college degree and establish seamless transfer agreements with our community college partners. We have secured funding for hiring more full-time faculty, expanding student support services, and investing in our physical and virtual infrastructure — including a new 50,000 square foot state-of-the art Nursing Education and Research Center.

The crisis of educational inequality is not a local issue. There are millions of talented students beyond our borough who are coming of age in America today, but who – because of the color of their skin, the balance of their bank account, their place of origin, who they choose to love, or the tenets of their faith – have not yet been afforded the opportunity to meet their full potential.

Lehman College is proud to join this fight, not just for the Bronx of today, but the nation of tomorrow.

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