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Original Article:
The World’s Community College (spring 2002)


Steady Growth at LaGuardia
July 2008

LAGUARDIA Community College, which was described as “the world’s community college” in a spring 2002 National CrossTalk article, has been living up to its reputation in the years since.

In fall 2007 the college, located in the New York City borough of Queens, enrolled students from 156 countries, speaking 118 different native languages. Fifty-nine percent were foreign born; 53 percent were first-generation college students. A majority were low income.

There has been steady growth. Fall 2007 enrollment included 15,169 credit students and 58,281 non-credit.

Although the number of white students has increased in recent years, they remain a minority. In fall 2006 the student population was 38 percent Hispanic, 21 percent Asian, 20 percent black, 15 percent white and six percent “other races and ethnicities.”

Since most LaGuardia students must combine their studies with jobs and family responsibilities, they often take longer to earn degrees or certificates.

“We continue to look for ways to enable our students to earn degrees or certificates in two years,” said Gail O. Mellow, LaGuardia’s president since 2000, in a 2008 interview.

In recent years the college has been “trying to create career paths, so students can move from lower-paying jobs like cleaning rooms in Manhattan hotels to something that pays better and is more interesting,” Mellow said.

For example, after taking ESL and other remedial classes, a student “might move to classes for home health aides, then to a certified nurse program, after that training to be a phlebotomist or a similar job, and perhaps eventually to a nursing program, either LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse) or RN (Registered Nurse),” Mellow said.

There has been an increasing focus on electronic portfolios, in which students keep a record not only of their educational progress but also of their personal life experiences.

These portfolios make it easier for “students whose lives are quite complex—they have families, or hold part-time jobs or perhaps are in drug recovery—to get a community college education,” Mellow said. “We think this is a very important development—it has become the singular pedagogy of the college.”

“These ‘e-portfolios’ are both a record of students’ work and a reflection on their learning experiences,” said Bret Eynon, executive director of the LaGuardia Center for Teaching and Learning. “They are a mix of the academic and the personal. They allow students to capture what’s happening to them, to reflect on how they’re changing.”

Since the program began in 2001, between 13,000 and 15,000 students have compiled e-portfolios, Eynon said. Enrollments have risen from 5,000 in the 2005-06 academic year to more than 7,500 in 2007-08.

“This e-portfolio is basically a showcase of my best works and pieces that I’ve done to date,” Abigail Philip, an aspiring teacher who was raised on the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda, wrote in her electronic journal. “This tool is basically one of my tickets into the workplace or a four-year institution. This is a perfect way of displaying my abilities, not only academically but socially and personally as well.”

—William Trombley

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