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John Jay College of Criminal Justice
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Criminal Justice Academy (CJA) Instructor Toolkit: Our Students

Whether you’re a new faculty member or a seasoned instructor, we hope you’ll find new ideas and practical resources for teaching criminal justice courses

Student Demographics

The Justice Academy is an effort to attract economically and culturally diverse students who express an interest in studying criminal justice. Among CUNY’s six community colleges, there are some marked contrasts from one campus to the next, as outlined in the tables below. At Bronx Community College, for instance, the majority of students are Hispanic; at Kingsborough there are nearly twice as many black students as Latino students. And while the predominant ethnic culture at Bronx Community College is Hispanic, BCC students hail from 109 different countries.  See the pdf files below with demographic tables comparing the CUNY Community Colleges. 

Our Students

The Justice Academy is an effort to attract economically and culturally diverse students who express an interest in studying criminal justice. The dual admission program offered by the Justice Academy provides accessible academic pathways leading from associate degree study to a bachelor’s degree. Justice Academy students aspire to careers in criminal justice, forensic science and forensic financial analysis. Some students choose this path because they lack the credentials, have limited financial resources, are more comfortable entering a college in their own community, or simply never considered applying to a four-year college.

It is common to hear new professors, graduate student teachers, and even seasoned faculty lament how unprepared community college students are for their course work. This reality is supported by data, which show that 82 percent of community college students must engage in some remedial course work to prepare them for college-level classes. Many students will continue to access academic support services throughout their college careers.

To make matters more difficult, many community college students are desperately trying to stay afloat while struggling to balance school, work, and family obligations. The demographics of community college students in New York City differ  from one campus to the next, but many are first-generation college students (48 percent), have household incomes under $20,000 (46 percent), are born outside the U.S. (44 percent), and speak a native language other than English (46 percent).

Nationally, more and more community college students aspire to higher-level degrees. Yet at the same time that more students are seeking advanced degrees, the number of students who actually transfer to a four-year colleges and earn a degree within five years has been shrinking.

The Justice Academy is a response to the need for initiatives that support and retain students, so new professors are tasked with developing unique curricula that are challenging while still recognizing the social, economic, and educational diversity of our students’ backgrounds. For these students to reach their academic and professional potential, their instructors and college community must first reach them.

Part of the joy of teaching in a community college is seeing tremendous improvement in students’ performance and actually helping people change their lives for the better. The student body of the Justice Academy is strengthened by its many differences in academic experience, race, gender, identity, and ethnicity.

Factors Impacting Achievement

Almost half of community college students live in households with incomes below $20,000. Roughly 30 percent of all students’ households have four or more family members. Even with tuition assistance, students just barely scrape by, especially when the cost of books and reading materials are included. Certain courses require a textbook as a reference, but instructors have a lot of flexibility around how readings are distributed. Be considerate of students with limited economic means and packed schedules.

In addition to their work and school load, Justice Academy students often have pronounced familial responsibilities. Many Justice Academy students lack study space at home and may have to share computer access and other essential tools for success in college with siblings, their parents, and their children. Some are the primary caregivers or wage earners for their families.

As an instructor, you should consider these circumstances when you make last-minute assignments or assign activities that call for a time or monetary commitment outside of class. While students may appreciate the hands-on experience of witnessing a court case in progress or traveling to see an important speaker, time and money limitations may interfere with a student’s ability to complete an assignment that does not fall within the hours and budget of the class they are enrolled in. That said, many students love such activities and consider them part of the greater college experience — but it is better to assign them as extra credit, rather than a requirement.

Discussing relevant current events is not simply a way to apply real-world situations to classroom material, but rather an effective way to link subject matter to the day-to-day life of students. Most of your male students have been stopped and frisked by the NYPD. Most of your students live near criminal activity and can discuss the life choices they have made, both good and bad. Your students, even ones lacking certain remedial skills, have earned their place in the academic world in a way in which many so-called “better” students never have. By and large, these are very smart students. The skill set of community college students encompasses a far greater range than other schools. Consider in the context how many Justice Academy students are immigrants and first-generation college students. The obstacles these students have overcome are quite remarkable. Had they been born to upper-middle-class parents with college degrees, they might very well have a sense of entitlement and be enrolled in more prestigious private universities. Be honored that they are your students and have a strong desire to learn and better themselves.     

CUNY community colleges maintain a low overall tuition relative to other schools both in New York and nationally: around $4,000 per semester, compared with a national average of about $11,500. And while CUNY does provide excellent value for money, the money is still substantial. Think of this way, how many professors have an extra $8,000 every year? Most students are still struggling to pay for school as evidenced by the number of students receiving aid.

Many students also navigate the complex bureaucracy of college quite poorly. It is easy to fall through the cracks. Do not be afraid to inform students of the college resources available to them. Professors can provide links or handouts that include strategies like how to take notes, manage stress, and budget time. These are readily available as part of the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Success Toolbox.