Sylwia Urbanska

Professor Alvarez

English 110

30 April 2012

Queens College as an Integral Part of American Culture

 Two years ago I have decided that I am finally old enough not to worry about being too old for a change, and so out of the brevity rose the idea to enter college and pursue my life long dream of becoming a psychologist.  When I reflect on my process of choosing the right institution to pave the way to my dreams, I had very limited choice. It had to be in close proximity to home and relatively affordable. I have not paid much attention to the actual ratings although I did ask for advice and input from my New York-native acquaintances about QC’s general reputation. The responses  were satisfying enough to pursue my plans to apply here.

College ratings stem from social need to rank. We have rankings for racing horses to cars to actors and  everything in between, so colleges could not escape this procedure. Rankings give a sense of importance and serve as a feedback for performance and quality. Being in college that is ranked very high gives a feeling of importance and hope for success in the future. Harvard and Yale do open more doors and more easily then Queens College. They provide an easier start, but the road doesn’t end there and at the end, it’s individuals performance and talents that determine life’s achievements, with few exceptions like our immediate past president, George W. Bush.

Queens College doesn’t make a national rankings’ list and was ranked #60 in regional rankings according to usnews college rankings for year 2011 and 2012 (http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities/spp%2B50/page+5).  Does it mean that the education it offers is useless or not worth pursuing? About 16,000 people don’t think so. Queens College offers relatively affordable higher education – $5,000 a year might be a hefty sum but it is very cheap in comparison with $40,000 that other institutions charge –  awarding fully accredited degrees in many areas allowing legal practice or ground for attaining a professional license. It might not enjoy the glamorous fame like Yale but it had produced celebrities in art and show business as well as on political arena. It might not have a strength to open all doors automatically like Harvard as we assume, but it gives enough confidence in starting  small and progressing if persistence and motivation fuel the journey.

Does that mean however that Queens College can guarantee equal opportunities for its students? What do “equal opportunities” mean and how are they interpreted by American society? United States being in war with communism for many decades, has incorporated its defying idea: all people are equal and deserve equal amount of material and intellectual goods. History has shown this idea to shatter against reality of humans’ differences. The struggle to realize this noble concept is nowhere as apparent as in the system of higher education.

A second and allied source of public interest in unlimited entry into college is the ideology of equal opportunity. Strictly interpreted, equality of opportunity means selection according to ability, without regard to extraneous considerations. Popularly interpreted, however, equal opportunity in obtaining a college education is widely taken to mean unlimited access to some form of college. (…) Higher education should make a seat available without judgment on past performance. (Clark 570)

Fighting for equal right to higher education has led to creating an open admission colleges and Queens College was part of this concept from 1969 to 1999 (Wikipedia Web). The results were not only a huge financial burden due to a huge demand for remedial classes offered at no cost but also decline in prestige and quality. As Clark mentioned, equal opportunities in higher education should be presented without concern to exogenous factors but based on relevant merits. That would be individual accomplishments in prior schools as giving forecast for cognitive abilities in further education. Although not impossible, it is very unlikely that a C-grade student in high school will become an accomplished and successful college student. To create the opportunity to all young adults is costly to both sides so advantages and disadvantages have to be wavered carefully. Money spent for remedial classes, additional stuff and accommodation could have been allocated towards research, equipment, or class size reduction as some opponents argue.  Queens College has stopped open admission policy in 1999. The crucial question here to ask is how much has its operation and status improve since then? Let us take a closer look at some of the above mentioned aspects. Class sizes. All classes with very few exceptions like English 110 offered to freshmen are large size classes. No class has been denied outright, provided you completed prerequisite, but the delayed registration system make for freshmen or even lower juniors quasi impossible to take advanced, specialized small size classes. It is a common reality in Queens College to be taking classes in large rooms with 50 or more students.

 

 

 

Since the capacity of this class is more then registrants, there is no additional cost on part of the college if any one of these students will eventually drop out. And since drop outs happen mostly in the first year of college, the open admission in this case would not have any impact on the operational cost.

Next factor demanding substantial amount of investment is the external appearance of the college campus. Most buildings however don’t look new, refreshed or appealing.

 

 

The money saved with selective admission hasn’t been put into renovation of buildings either as it can be seen in the pictures taken in the Science Building. In addition, the equipment is not only not impressive but in some departments below any standards. The Queens College has a Neuroscience Department that is quite proud of. On the website we learn that the alumni of this program are doing exceptionally well in pursuing further education in medical and research fields. This department however doesn’t have any kind of brain model on premises. A decent brain model’s cost can be as low as few hundred dollars and could significantly improve the learning experience in classes like behavioral or cognitive neuroscience. Brain model or rather lack thereof is an example of a detail that can make a big difference in learning experience and contribute to the perception of the institution as poor in recources and management. 

Let us move on to the operational efficiency of QC’s internet-based communication system. In only few months of experience, I have encountered two major problems with my CunyFirst account that could have significantly impacted my life’s situation. It serves as a communicator between the college and the student.  I had two time sensitive issues in my time as a student, and in both times this communicator has failed.  First, I had to register for the English 110 class and considering my two jobs, I had to make sure I would get the spot in the class of my choice. Having the Upper Junior standing, I had some priority but that would fade within days if I didn’t take advantage of early registration.  I rushed to the office to register only to be denied this privilege.  I had an administrative hold on my account because having so many credits I have not officially declared the major. The system however did not inform me of this certainly important issue! Only due to the kindness of an administrative stuff and Department of Psychology Chair, I was able to take care of this hold in time to register early. The second situation happen only few months later and was of the same kind. This time I had a hold placed on my account, also without clear notice visible to me, that was clarified and should have been removed. I was in need of creating an unofficial transcript ASAP but was not able to because someone had failed to clear my account. In both cases the time was of essence and only due to kindness again and good will of people, I was able to solve the matters without harm to my plans. The system however has failed in situations in which it was needed most.

In the light of the above experience, the question arises how or from what credit standing on, do students enjoy the “personalized attention” as proclaimed on the QC website (http://www.qc.cuny.edu/about/Pages/default.aspx).

Although selective admission is an integral part of any elite establishment and Burton Clark lays out compelling reasons for its justification, the high education process which begins with the admission process, might in fact support existing social structures discriminating individuals based on factors other then intellectual abilities.

It has been argued that, rather than being a vehicle for upward mobility or equality, educational institutions have served to replicate the existing social order. For instance, Bowles and Gintis (1976) argue that working-class students are predominantly rewarded for docility and obedience while more affluent students re typically rewarded for initiative and assertiveness, traits also rewarded in the upper occupational strata.(…)Women from working-class backgrounds in higher education face challenges unknown to their more affluent counterparts.(…) The women in both studies expressed their consciousness of class conflict within their universities and their disadvantages and social limitations. Additionally, the women in the Miller and Kastberg (1955) study expressed concerns such as little encouragement toward education from parents, a lack of financial resources, a dearth of role models and mentors, the loss of connection with family and friends, and a lack of confidence in their academic talents. (Richardson 39)

To be admitted to the most prestigious universities, having the best grades simply isn’t enough. Part of admission questionnaire entails extra curricular activities and also family background, or parents’ educational background to be precise. There is no need to mention that financial situation will in most families determine child’s developed skills beyond school requirements like playing an instruments, being involved in sport from early age or dance classes at the very least. Also parents’ education or intellectual level will shape the attitude towards the value of education and towards own abilities to succeed. A person whose cognitive development has been addressed with conscious effort and stimulation by attending classes outside of school, visiting museums and shows to name few examples, will with no doubt have a better start in higher education and early adulthood. Open admission system was a trial to lift the inequalities but has failed against previous years of neglect. New York State Department of Education has created a program called “Gifted and Talented” which is designed to create opportunities in early childhood to nurture children with special cognitive abilities from all backgrounds and prepare them for college. If that program will succeed in helping children from lower class backgrounds to gain access to prestigious universities is highly doubtful but it might help to prepare for standards of college education and prevent dropout and disappointment.

On the whole, despite decades-long efforts to create an equal opportunity educational system, the racial and social differences are still acutely present. The differences are deeply rooted and expressed in financial situation for the most part. The difficulty in changing the situation lies not only in legal systems but in mentality of all involved and is a base for unconscious understanding of survival mode. “But the rupture cannot result from a simple awakening of consciousness; the transformation of the objective structures of which they are the product and which they can survive.” (Bourdieu 121-122) The change is always a treat to the need for security and survival. Novelty solutions are as threatening to the dominant as to the dominated because the unknown creates the opportunity as much for a better as for the worse outcome then the existing one. Mental habitual norms are determined to preserve status quo and perpetuate familiarity.

Queens College makes efforts to grant entry based solely on merits less exogenous discrimination. Its perceived image is of an equal opportunity for all whose intellectual abilities have been proven to manage its educational standards. Racial as well as social discrimination is not visible to me. It might be because as an international student and at age above average, I am already a double outcast.

 

Works Cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Economy of Symbolic Goods.” Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Trans. Randal Johnson. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1998. Print.

Clark, Burton R. “The ‘Cooling-Out’ Function in Higher Education.” The American Journal of Sociology 65.6 (1960): 569-576. Print.

Richardson, Gillian S. “Rejecting Pygmalion: The Social and Cultural Capital of Working-Class Women Ph.D. Students.” Race, Gender & Class 11.3 (2004): 36-49. Print.

www.qc.cuny.edu Queens College, 2004-2010. Web. 30 Apr. 2012

http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/queens-college-2690

USNews, 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2012

 

 

 

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