John Jay College

Advancing Justice through Higher Education

Equal opportunity in education

To disrupt the two-tier public higher education system by implementing sustainable and proven innovations to increase degree completion for low income students of color.

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Lead Organization

John Jay College

New York, New York, United States

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

At John Jay, with our mission of educating for justice, we believe college completion is a justice issue. Lack of a 4-year degree creates barriers to social mobility and opportunity for low-income, African-American, Latinx, immigrant, justice-involved, and first-generation students. This, in turn, results in a lack of inclusion at decision-making levels in our society, creating a vicious cycle of inequity and exclusion. Through the justice-based, college-completion model of the CUNY Justice Academy, John Jay is succeeding in tackling this problem within the City University of New York system, the largest urban university in the United States. The Academy increases college access for marginalized communities. It is a scalable model for successful partnerships between Associate degree and Bachelor’s programs at university systems across the nation.

Problem Statement

It has been 65 years since the landmark decision in Brown vs. Board, yet the national conversation about race, poverty, education, and opportunity has never been more critical. In public higher education today, low income, first-generation students of color are more likely to begin their educational journey at two-year schools than four-year ones. This two-tier system is reflective of the structural inequalities that continue to impact the lives of millions of lower income students across the country. John Jay College is attuned to these inequalities because we primarily serve students from low-income households. In fact, John Jay is the only 4-year college in the country that has a Single Stop, a resource found at community colleges and centers to bolster students’ economic security. John Jay understands the legacy of race-based, class-exclusion in public education and has dedicated itself to developing a method that dramatically disrupts an unfair system. For the past ten years, John Jay has built a praxis model called the CUNY Justice Academy that propels students seamlessly from the 2-year degree to the 4-year degree and beyond. More than 50% of our graduates are engaged in public service at the city, state, and federal government. At the core of this praxis model is a barrier-free pathway to success. Once admitted to the Justice Academy students benefit from dedicated guidance through the process of study completion, transition to John Jay, through post-graduate work. The model succeeds by ensuring faculty at all colleges share common goals, values, vision, and services.

Solution Overview

Institutions can and do produce vastly different outcomes with the same student populations, and colleges that succeed do so when their leaders and faculty are intentional about student success. For example, Cal State Fullerton graduates 52% of its Latinx students within six years, whereas the University of Texas at San Antonio, of similar size and student population, graduates only 33.7% in the same time span. We will begin by expanding the Justice Academy model to all 8,000 students in the 2-year to 4-year college pipeline to deepen the impact locally. This requires bringing together faculty and leaders from all 8 colleges to create common goals, coursework, and values across all remaining high impact degree programs. The 7 community college presidents all signed an MOU to signal their commitment. John Jay’s model prioritizes a clear pathway to access. In the second phase we will collaborate with other university systems to disrupt the two-tier education system. Together, we will develop and implement university-specific road maps for guiding underserved students to graduate through completion programs that provide individualized attention and personalized programming. Key to this process is the adoption of common goals, values, and vision between senior college and community college faculty so that expectations of community college students are consistent with the goal of achieving a 4-year degree. We will know we are making progress by monitoring rates of student retention, credit accumulation, graduation, and post-graduation outcomes. Over the five-year period, we will transparently define our success strategies, publicly track our progress.

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Project Funders

  • U.S. Government

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