The battle over open admissions at the City University of New York has resumed. This May a CUNY sociologist triumphantly proclaimed open admissions a success. The evidence? Ten years after matriculation, 56 percent of the students admitted in the first three years of the program had received at least an associate's degree.
It's a testament to the corrupting impact that open admissions has had on expectations for higher education that a ten-year, 56 percent graduation rate can be trumpeted as good news. Even apologists for open admissions seem confused by this standardless standard. At the same time that sociologist David Lavin celebrated the graduation rate, he cited the failure to graduate of over 40 percent of all students, and two-thirds of minority students, as proof that CUNY still takes its academic mission seriously. It would seem that CUNY has a high graduation rate and a high dropout rate?and is quite proud of both.
In any case, CUNY's high dropout rate says nothing about the rigor of the education that it provides. A week after the New York Times glowingly reported on CUNY's "success" with open admissions, an adjunct assistant professor of political science at City College wrote a letter to the editor objecting to Lavin's conclusions. "Something is wrong," she said, "when I teach [CUNY graduates] who still cannot write a simple declarative sentence." Most of her students with bachelor's degrees from CUNY were unable to organize and construct an argument, she said.
In the political science department at City College, one professor grumbled about "washing CUNY's dirty linen in public." Anonymous denunciations of the writer, sent from CUNY's Graduate Center, began flooding the department's fax machine.
The controversy over open admissions has gone on in this unilluminating way for many years. Genuine debate is rare, and dissenters from the party line win ostracism. Fortunately, the CUNY administration has recently taken welcome steps to raise admission and graduation requirements in recognition of the failings of the current regime. New proclamations of open admissions' "success" offer no reason to stray from that more stringent course.