New York Times
Mexicans and Mexican-Americans account for fewer than 2,000 of the 200,000 undergraduates at the City University of New York. But they are one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in New York. Yesterday, CUNY's chancellor signed an agreement with Mexico's consul general in New York to try to expand educational opportunities for this group.
The agreement calls for a scholarship program; radio, television and other advertising; contacts with high schools where large numbers of students of Mexican ancestry are enrolled; a training program for community leaders, run with the American Jewish Committee; and a bilingual Web site put together by the university and the consulate.
"Education is the key to economic, social and political advancement for any immigrant community," Arturo Sarukhan, the consul general, said in an interview. "We're trying to use a wide-barreled shotgun to address a number of issues at the same time."
Hispanic students nationwide have high dropout rates and low rates of college graduation, and students of Mexican descent have an especially poor track record. In New York, recent immigrants from Mexico over 24 have the highest rate of not completing high school (65 percent) and the lowest rate of college graduation (5 percent), according to a recent report by the population division of the New York City Planning Department.
City University, which has traditionally served as a pathway for immigrants, has tried to reach out to Hispanics in recent years. Hispanic students now make up about 26 percent of the university's
undergraduates, including 18,000 of Dominican ancestry and more than 12,000 of Puerto Rican descent.
The group from Mexico is far smaller but growing. "This is an emerging ethnic group that has been totally underserved educationally," CUNY's chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, said yesterday. "To the degree that this university can open its arms and hearts and wisdom to these people, it will give them an opportunity to improve their lives."
To reach more Dominican immigrants this year, the university created a satellite site in Washington Heights, with nondegree programs and credit-bearing college courses. About 650 students are taking college courses there now.
The university also plans to open an admissions and counseling center on West 181st Street. And next month, CUNY-TV will start "Nueva York," a Spanish-language program (with English captions) about the Hispanic communities of New York.
But Jay Hershenson, a university vice chancellor, said that because of the fast growth of the Mexican community and its enormous educational needs, it made sense to single out the group specifically.
Other states, like California and Texas, have much larger Mexican immigrant populations, but until recently, they were a small presence in New York. The City Planning report, "The Newest New Yorkers 2000," said that Mexicans were now the fifth-largest immigrant group in New York, up from 17th in 1990. And their growth is expected to continue.
Some CUNY colleges are also paying more attention to Mexican immigrant issues. Lehman College in the Bronx, where nearly half the students are Hispanic, recently hired an expert in Mexican-American literature, and Ricardo R. Fernandez, Lehman's president, said he hoped to recruit other experts in Mexican-American topics.
Mr. Sarukhan said that access to education was a "huge challenge" for his community and especially for illegal immigrants. He said that primary and secondary education were also crucial, but that with limited resources, it made sense to start with higher education.
The scholarship program, which he said would start next fall, will be financed by the Mexican government, which will create similar programs in other American cities. The details are not yet set. But Mr. Sarukhan said he expected 50 to 80 scholarships, each worth at least $1,000 a year.
He said that he was working with City University because it had demonstrated an understanding of the problems of Mexican students.
"CUNY is the only institution in New York that said, 'We want to do this,' " he said. "The doors have not opened at other education institutions the way they have at CUNY. If they did, that would be stupendous."