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.