Meets pressing community needs by mobilizing caring New Yorkers in volunteer service.

Making College an Option for New York City Students by Gary Bagley

College graduation season is coming to a close. Over the past month, college students all over the country sat in crowded gymnasiums and auditoriums, diplomas in hand, moving tassels from one side of their caps to the other.

The value of the degrees they are earning is indisputable. Years of climbing tuition costs and a tough job market notwithstanding, the importance of a postsecondary degree is greater than ever. In 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with a Bachelor’s Degree earned 65% more than those with a high school diploma. This disparity is only expected to grow as economic changes continue to place a high value on postsecondary education.

However, the path from high school to a college degree is far from certain for many of New York City’s young people. Beyond graduating high school the journey is filled with obstacles like:

  • Maximizing SAT Scores and Grades. NYC students score 131 points below the national average. For low-income students, $1,000 - $1,600, the typical cost of SAT tutoring, is often out of the question.

  • Getting Accepted to the Best College.  As of September 2014, there were 1,188 guidance counselors serving approximately 300,000 high school students – over 250 students for each guidance counselor.  Understandably, most high school students cannot get much, if any, individualized support as they navigate the college application process.

  • Securing the Necessary Financial Aid.  The cost of tuition, books, transportation, and room and board can end a college career before it begins. According to a report in the Journal of Student Financial Aid, low-income families, who have the greatest financial need, are least likely to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), in part because of a lack of information about FAFSA and the application’s complexity.

These challenges, while significant, are not insurmountable. We at New York Cares have seen firsthand how volunteers help to fill these gaps, making college an option for many of the city’s young people.

Our staff and volunteers have committed to helping students to develop foundational academic skills, providing guidance in selecting colleges and areas of study, and assisting students and families in completing the FAFSA. Through the New York Cares SAT Preparation program, volunteers tutored over 900 students for the SAT last year. The students’ scores, on average, jumped over 200 points from 1154 on their preliminary practice tests to 1364 on the actual test.

In recognition of this impact and the importance of a college degree, New York Cares is increasing its investment in college access programs, setting a goal of nearly doubling the numbers of students served to over 3,400 over the next several years. 

A bigger announcement about our work in education is on the way, but I could not let June pass by without calling your attention to the issues students are facing. While we can no longer change last year’s graduation rates or SAT scores, we can change next year’s. Find out more about how New York Cares volunteers are preparing students for college and what you can do to help here.

-Gary Bagley is the Executive Director of New York Cares.

Have comments, questions, or just want to be in the loop? Tweet him at @GBagley_NYCares

Erica Plofsky's picture