Tackling Urban Inequalities

CUNY initiatives to teach life skills and provide educational opportunities to young men will be a part of New York City mayor's new high-profile push to address racial disparities.
August 5, 2011

Like almost every other government agency in New York City, the City University of New York will be part of an unusually ambitious plan by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to tackle address problems faced by young black and Latino men and bring them into the education system and workforce.

In a press conference Thursday, Bloomberg announced a three-year, $127 million initiative to try to tackle the disparities between young men of color and the rest of the population. “When we look at poverty rates, graduation rates, crime rates, employment rates, one thing stands out,” Bloomberg said at the press conference. “Blacks and Latinos are not fully sharing in the promise of American freedom, and far too many are trapped in circumstances that are difficult to escape from.”

The effort, called the Young Men's Initiative, will try to reshape the public services offered by the city, ranging from K-12 education and the college and university system to the probation system and employment practices of the city. Money for the initiative -- which will come from tax revenue; the Open Society Institute, a philanthropy created by George Soros; and Bloomberg Philanthropies -- will flow to job-training programs, educational initiatives, and a variety of other public programs.

CUNY will be involved in several educational and workforce development programs. Administrators at CUNY said they see the initiative as the second phase of the mayor's push to reduce poverty in the city, with which they have been involved for some time.

“Whenever there’s a conversation about educational or workforce preparedness goals in New York City, CUNY is going to be involved,” said Suri Duitch, associate university dean for continuing education and deputy to the senior university dean for academic affairs at CUNY. “The question is what that involvement actually looks like.”

CUNY will receive funding to spearhead several projects for this second phase, some of which have a track record of success and others of which are new ventures for the system. The programs will start small, but if they show success, they may be expanded. "A great thing about the mayor’s office is that they like to do new things and try innovative models," Duitch said. "But they pay a lot of attention to how they work. If they don’t work they shut them down -- they actually do that -- and if they do work, they figure out how to expand them or take parts of them and institutionalize them."

The first CUNY initiative, called Project REDRESS, will teach parenting skills to young men who are not currently students but may be fathers or expecting fathers, while also helping them learn about educational and employment opportunities. It is modeled on an existing CUNY program that has demonstrated success for women. The project is being funded by the Open Society Institutes and will enroll about 200 participants during the first three years of the initiative.

In addition to the new initiative, the system is getting funding to expand several programs with good records, including a health care training program at LaGuardia Community College. The another project that is getting expanded, currently in place at the Bronx Community College, provides peer mentors for young men in GED programs. About $250,000 a year will go toward expanding the program to two more sites. Duitch said the program has increased the college-going rates of participants and lowered rates of required remediation when those students go to college.

CUNY is also incorporating some of the findings from the city's original round of research into other programs already in place. “One commonality of all the effective programs is that they helped young men find and keep a stable adult in their lives," Duitch said. "And we will incorporate those into our models as well."

In addition to the educational programs, the Young Men's Initiative seeks to make wide-ranging reforms to city services to keep young black and Latino men employed and out of prison.

Education: The city will tie school performance grades to the outcomes of black and Latino males as compared to their peers. It will implement mentoring programs for young men lacking stable figures in their lives. The city will also study 40 schools that have already shown progress in closing the achievement gap to determine what other schools can do. "A lot of programs work, scaling them up is the great challenge," Bloomberg said.

Health: One of the major components of the city's health-focused initiatives is teaching men to be engaged fathers, including CUNY's Project Redress. The city is also making reproductive health and education services more widely available to help young men to help them avoid being fathers until they are ready.

Employment: The city is expanding Jobs-Plus, an evidence-based program that removes barriers to employment for residents in public housing, as well as a youth internship program. In his press conference Thursday, Bloomberg said the city will be increasing efforts to help young men obtain identification, often a barrier to employment and starting a bank account.

Justice system: The city will be reforming its probation system by placing officers in the community, co-located with neighborhood organizations that provide mentors and literacy programs. The city is also reforming its hiring practices to make it easier for former inmates to get hired. “I believe that as long as you have served your time and stayed clean, and the crime you committed isn’t related to the job you’re seeking or a threat to public safety, you deserve a second chance just like everyone else,” Bloomberg said.


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