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Staying Home to Go to College

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Lots of parents and prospective college students are reeling these days from sticker-shock at soaring college tuition costs — especially since many college-savings accounts have been hammered by the economy’s recent nosedive.

But here in the Valley, as elsewhere in the nation, many families are taking a fresh look at what some call “the best-kept secret in education”: community colleges.

Reasons? For one, the price is right. Two-year schools can be a tremendous value; costs at many four-year private colleges now surpass $180,000 over four years. Even prices for state schools are moving ever-higher — tuition at New York’s four-year public colleges is currently about $4,350 annually and is set to rise again this spring by $310 per semester. By comparison, the nation’s 1,200 two-year schools — New York State’s SUNY system has 30 of them — charge an average annual tuition of just $2,300, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

“Traditionally, it’s been the case with community colleges that enrollment has gone up when the economy’s gone down,” says Mike Albright, director of communications at Orange County Community College (OCCC) in Middletown. “Community colleges offer degrees that prepare people for the workforce, often at a higher level of pay and management,” he adds. “They allow students to get a jump-start on college, and save on costs — they’re an excellent investment in education.”

“In today’s economy, students and families have to be realistic about their options,” says Susan Mead, director of financial aid at Dutchess Community College (DCC). “To send your child to a $45,000-a-year school is very nice if you can afford it. But to have that child get out with a four-year degree and an accumulated student-loan debt of say, $100,000, that’s a problem. You need to take a realistic look at the cost of education.”

No More “13th Grade”

In addition to lower costs, another draw of community colleges is their ever-increasing quality. Today’s two-year schools offer top-notch educational options geared to modern lifestyles and schedules. Gone are the days when some community colleges were disparagingly dubbed “13th grade” because of the perception they attracted underachieving students and had less-than-stellar standards. “There’s definitely a shift in the mindset,” says Ron Marquette, coordinator of community relations and special events at Ulster County Community College (UCCC). “It used to be that students would think they’d have to go away to get a good education. But now more are saying, ‘Let me stay close to home.’ ” In fact, community colleges are currently so popular that the American Association of Community Colleges says that enrollment at two-year schools increased 10 percent between 2000-2006. These schools now enroll nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates.

Of course, the students who flock to community college have myriad goals. Some seek a two-year associate’s degree; others are en route to a four-year degree. Still others are nontraditional students — older adults; individuals requiring remedial assistance; workers seeking new skills because they’ve been laid off or want to stay on the cutting-edge in their field; or those who attend school part-time for financial or family reasons.

Many community colleges offer special services for those who attend school while holding down a job and/or juggling family duties. Weekend and evening classes, childcare centers (available at UCCC, DCC, OCCC, and Hudson Valley Community College, among others), and expanding on-line course options help make college easier for busy adults to manage.

But community colleges are definitely seeing an increase in younger students, due in part to changes on campus which make attending these institutions mirror the classic college experience. For instance, dormitories have been proposed at both DCC and UCCC. “The purpose is to offer a full college experience,” says Marquette about the UCCC projects, which would create housing for 250-300 students (although the plan is “very much in the early stages” and will not be completed for at least several years). At DCC, townhouse-style dormitories for 500 to 800 students are in the works, although last year the plan hit what administrators hope is a temporary snag when both the Town and City of Poughkeepsie opposed the proposal.

Growing study-abroad options are also attracting more students. Last summer, OCCC sent a small contingent of students to Italy, the first for-credit foreign study trip in their history. The school has also just completed construction of the Gilman Center for International Education — home to their newly created Global Studies department — and has made a globalized curriculum one of their development goals. Most of the Valley’s community colleges can tap into the vast SUNY network to offer a wide range of study-abroad programs to their students.

 

 

Hudson Valley Colleges' Tuition chartClick on the image above to review statistics on some Hudson Valley colleges

Local community colleges are also making use of their honors programs to lure bright students. Both UCCC and DCC offer free two-year tuition and acceptance into their honors program to any county student who graduates in the top 10 percent of his or her high school class. The OCCC honors program offers similar perks, including free tuition for 10 of the county’s top graduates, a guest lecture series, and an honors student lounge. The school also requires all students to complete a community service component, which is intended in part to make graduates more appealing to transfer institutions. (Motivated students should note that Vassar College offers an all-expenses-paid “exploring transfer” program to first-generation college students. The aim is to introduce them to the possibilities of transferring to a wide range of four-year institutions.)

Allen Kovler, director of public relations at Columbia-Greene Community College, points out that the more intimate, less-intimidating educational environment at community colleges tends to encourage student-teacher interaction, and helps students bloom. “Small classes give students the nurturing they need to succeed,” he says. Margaret Carlon, a public relations associate at Columbia-Greene, agrees that kids at a smaller school can thrive when they’re more than just an anonymous face in a crowded lecture hall. “College is a big adjustment, and many students benefit from staying closer to home in a supportive learning environment for the first couple of years,” she says.

“Most people don’t realize that community colleges are America’s contribution to higher education,” says Dr. Cliff L. Wood, president of Rockland Community College (RCC). “They were created in the U.S. after World War II so everyone could have reasonable commuter access to higher education. Community colleges have done just that — it’s one of the things I think is so wonderful about them, in terms of opportunities they offer to the public.”

RCC, like other community colleges, draws a varied student body. “The diversity is exciting,” says Wood. “We have local people from all walks of life, and international students. This gives students exposure to people whose backgrounds are very different from their own; it’s really a gift.”

State Stars

It’s not just community colleges that are attracting more local students. Four-year schools in the Valley — particularly state schools — are also noting an uptick in students choosing to attend school close to home.

“With the economic downturn, we’re certainly seeing more students staying in the area,” says Lisa Jones, dean of undergraduate admissions at SUNY New Paltz. “We get students from all around the Hudson Valley, and we’re seeing more transfers from Dutchess, Orange, Ulster, Rockland, and Sullivan county colleges,” she says. “In some instances, students might have first been set on attending a private school elsewhere. But when they see that SUNY New Paltz offers the same programs, and we’re about the same size — but at a more reasonable price — they often decide to come here.”

Tuition Topics

“In this economic climate, parents are worried,” says Susan Mead. “They say that financial investments they’d planned to use for their children’s college are losing value. Even plans they’d had for their son or daughter to go to a state university might not be as affordable as they’d hoped.”

But the situation isn’t totally dire, Mead stresses. “Everything you hear in the economy about student loans drying up, that’s not from the federal perspective; it’s from the private student-loan market. And although those options are shrinking, they’re not gone altogether.”

Two federally backed tuition-assistance programs — Stafford loans and Perkins loans — are available to most students, she says. Also, New York State offers one of the more generous tuition-assistance programs, known as TAP. “It’s a grant based on a family’s state net taxable income. So there are options to explore when it comes to tuition assistance,” she says.

Yet community college tuition is so reasonable, relatively speaking, “that a lot of our students choose not to take out loans while they’re here,” says Mead. “Instead, they pay with money they saved from working or from birthdays or graduation. It’s much more affordable for them not to be saddled with student debt.” And Mead vouches for the educational quality at DCC: “My daughter is an honor student at Dutchess. I wouldn’t send her here if it wasn’t a good place to be.”

Alma Matters
Graduates, we all know a picture is worth a thousand words — so show us some of your most memorable photos from your college days in the Hudson Valley. Our favorite picks could be shown on www.hvmag.com. Please include your name and hometown, college, major, graduation year, and a few lines about your photo (be sure to identify yourself). Send your digital images to edit@hvmag.com.

 

 

Students Grade Community Colleges

Here’s what some students in the Valley had to say about their choice to attend college close to home:
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Jesse Ewald, 20, of Plattekill, is majoring in adolescent education and is in his second year at Ulster County Community College. “My plan is to transfer to SUNY New Paltz,” he says. “I didn’t see the sense in going away for two years, just to come back home. Also, my mother is an Ulster alumna, and my grandma is a SUNY New Paltz alumna.” Jesse, an Eagle Scout, is committed to his role as an assistant scoutmaster. “That played a major role in my decision to stay near home; I wanted to stay active in my troop.” The most challenging part of attending Ulster? “The 40-minute drive there and back.” He adds: “I didn’t choose to go to UCCC because of the economy. The fact that I can get a great, affordable education at a beautiful campus is a plus, but not the main factor. In light of our current economic problems in the country, however, I’m extremely happy that I made the decision I did. I have been hearing horror stories about students at other colleges not being able to receive loans or financial aid.”

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For financial reasons, September Bembry of Chatham couldn’t go to her first-choice school, John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “So I chose Columbia-Greene instead,” she says. “They took the time to sit down and talk to me. I felt welcomed and comfortable.” She’s aiming for an associate’s degree in criminal justice, followed by a transfer to John Jay or another SUNY school. Another plus: “Being in a rural environment, it’s quiet and tranquil here, so I can focus on my studies,” she says.

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Michelle Bonsu, 23, graduated from Rockland Community College as an honors student in 2006 and went on to get a bachelor’s in history at Georgetown University two years later. She’ll soon start a paralegal job in New York City, and plans to eventually attend law school. “For me, it was a great choice to go to school near home,” Bonsu says. “I’d been through boarding schools and away from home since I was 13. Going to a local school and living back at home gave me a chance to reconnect with my family and Rockland County.” She especially liked the mentorship program at RCC, where she worked closely with faculty. “I even got to know Cliff Wood, the college president, through the program. There aren’t many schools where you can do that.”

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Wesley Tunison, a Columbia-Greene liberal arts major who got his degree in December, says a community college can be a great stepping-stone to a career — and he’s got his sights set on the theater. He’s been accepted to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Manhattan. “Mostly I chose Columbia-Greene for academic reasons,” he says. “I felt I could receive the same high-quality college experience compared to any other SUNY school. By attending C-GCC, I didn’t lose any opportunities, but rather, I gained. By staying in the area, I became involved in exciting local stage productions in addition to classes, which helped my chances of getting accepted to AMDA in the city.”

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Mark Schaefer, 22, of Salt Point, says, “I wasn’t the best student in high school, and I didn’t take my SATs.” But he enrolled in Dutchess Community College, fulfilled his required subjects, and transferred to SUNY New Paltz, where he’s a junior. Mark calls it a good move. “I live at home, so I don’t have to pay for rent or food. True, it might be nice to have the experience of actually living at a four-year school, but I’m happy at home. And since I also have a job while I go to school, it’s hard to have time to hang out at school anyway.” He’s now focused on the SUNY New Paltz creative writing program and hopes to launch a screenwriting career.

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Brittany Kelly of Nanuet first set out to college at the University of Rhode Island with expectations common to many freshmen. “I went with a friend, thinking we could room together and have a lot of fun,” she says. “But for the amount of money it was costing me to be there, it just wasn’t worth it.” Isolation was a factor, too. “There was nothing to do because half of the kids lived nearby and went home on the weekends.” So she decided to transfer to Rockland Community College. “I heard there was an honors program, and the school is 10 minutes away from my house. I really like the small class sizes here,” says Brittany, who plans to get her associate’s degree at Rockland “while I decide where I want to go for my last two years of undergraduate school.”

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Patrice Wiley, 20, of Middletown, is a senior at Orange County Community College whose double major in liberal arts includes math, science, English, and history courses. “I’m the kind of person who likes to try things out first; I didn’t want to leave the nest right away, so I’m glad school is close to home,” she says. Financial aid covers tuition and books, and a work-study program “puts a little extra change in my pocket,” says Patrice, who is also active in extracurricular events, including serving as president of the Student Board of Activities. “Before I came to college, some people would say that a community college is easy, that it’s a place where you can just chill and have fun. But if you really get involved, it’s about hard knocks; it really pushes you to the limit and prepares you for life. I’m really grateful for the chance to come to a community college.”

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Kathryn McBride, 21, is wrapping up studies at Ulster County Community College and plans to transfer to Marist in the spring to study psychology. “The idea of going away to college never appealed to me. I’m close to my family and do best in familiar surroundings,” she says. “I know my way around the area and have a solid support system of family and friends nearby.” Her decision wasn’t based on economics. “I was attending UCCC before the economic crisis hit. However, I would say that if someone is being deterred from a school of choice based on economic hardship, UCCC is a great place to start. It can help you transfer smoothly; they have many agreements with other colleges and universities, if you decide to do so.”

Alma Matters
Graduates, we all know a picture is worth a thousand words — so show us some of your most memorable photos from your college days in the Hudson Valley. Our favorite picks could be shown on www.hvmag.com. Please include your name and hometown, college, major, graduation year, and a few lines about your photo (be sure to identify yourself). Send your digital images to edit@hvmag.com.

 

Read on to study up on 12 of the Hudson Valley’s most respected academies

 

 

Ulster County Community College students study on the grass
With the Catskills in view, UCCC students study on the college’s picturesque campus

Ulster County Community College

By: Greg Ryan

Technology is king at UCCC, which was among the first community colleges in the state to grant degrees for coursework completed entirely on-line. The two-year college’s OASIS (On-line Associate in Science in Individual Studies) program allows students to earn a degree without ever setting foot in a classroom. Participants mix and match 300 on-line classes offered by schools throughout the SUNY system, piling up 60 credits that they can then transfer to four-year schools. To those looking to supplement their on-line education with good ol’ fashioned brick-and-mortar learning, worry not: UCCC’s technological acumen isn’t limited to how students learn; it also plays a significant role in what they learn about. The school claims to be “rapidly becoming the Hudson Valley’s leader in information technology training,” and backs it up by offering six programs in computer and information technology, including database management and computer information systems. (It even awards a degree in veterinary technology, the only one of its kind in the region.) Computer facilities on campus are top-notch, especially in the science laboratories: the biology facilities feature advanced imaging and anatomy software; and computers in the physics lab come equipped with motion detectors, force sensors, magnetic field sensors, and temperature probes. All of this isn’t to say the college is entirely hardware-focused. In 2006, the school launched a new theatre arts program and students have access to real-world amenities such as childcare, a 500-seat theater, athletic fields, and an art gallery. Additionally, adventurous souls interested in foreign study have the option of spending a semester abroad in one of more than 60 countries. The college even has an international programs director right on campus to help find the destination right for you.
Cottekill Rd., Stone Ridge. 845-687-5000; www.sunyulster.edu

 

Up next: Rockland Community College

 

 
Rockland Community College Technology Center

Rockland Community College

By: Greg Ryan

At 6,000-plus students, RCC has the feel of a four-year school, not a community college. Fortunately for its students, it possesses the resources to match. For starters, there’s the innovative “3 + 1” program, a new arrangement between the school and SUNY Cobleskill that allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree from the upstate school without ever leaving RCC’s Suffern campus. Then there are the 1,400 courses, covering topics as diverse as marketing research and medical terminology. And there are the notable guest speakers, including one who has escaped slavery in Sudan, and another who worked on NASA’s missions to Mars. So what else? Aspiring writers and journalists will be glad to hear an independent, student-run newspaper, Outlook, is published on campus; and that the school’s literary magazine, Impulse, won third place in the Community College Humanities Association’s literary magazine competition last year. Athletics? The school is home to 10 interscholastic athletic teams (RCC has produced 48 All-Americans since 1960) and a 90,000-square-foot indoor fieldhouse containing two basketball courts, four tennis courts, and a swimming pool. Diversity? With minorities making up nearly 40 percent of the student population, the school is the most diverse community college in the Hudson Valley outside of Westchester. Along with the big-campus atmosphere, the college still offers the types of services adult learners, especially, can appreciate: Students in need of childcare while they’re at class can look forward to a new daycare center for infants up to pre-K, which is set to open soon.
145 College Rd., Suffern. 845-574-4000; www.sunyrockland.edu

 

Up next: Columbia-Greene Community College

 

 
 Columbia-Greene science students work on a lab with one of their professors

Columbia-Greene Community College

By: Greg Ryan

Columbia-Greene is the newest and smallest community college in the Valley. That doesn’t mean the school has less to offer than its competition, however. C-GCC demonstrates its commitment to a low-cost education from the get-go with a no-fee application (the usual cost of a SUNY-wide application is $40). In addition, the school offers extracurricular activities that put students in a position to succeed from the moment they set foot on the Hudson campus until long after they leave. The Department of Alternative Learning, for example, reviews basic math and reading skills for incoming students in need of a refresher, and the brand-new Professional Academic Center equips students and graduates with the job-seeking skills needed to land work in a tough economy. In between college preparation and help with job hunting, C-GCC offers unique classes such as digital photography and forensic anthropology; in the latter, students study the methods used to examine skeletal remains — an interesting way for criminal justice majors to get their feet wet in CSI-style forensics. The school typically places in the top three of SUNY community colleges when it comes to number of graduates who go on to four-year schools: Alumni have attended top-flight universities such as Brown, MIT, RPI, and Yale.
400 Rte. 23, Hudson. 518-828-4181; www.sunycgcc.edu

 

Up next: SUNY New Paltz

 

 

SUNY New Paltz
Opened in 2006, New Paltz’s Athletic and Wellness Center has cardio and weight-training facilities

SUNY New Paltz

By: Greg Ryan

SUNY New Paltz is on fire. In 2007, Newsweek named New Paltz “the hottest small state school” in the country. The college has seen a 40 percent increase in freshmen applications since 2000, and has received more applications than any other SUNY school for 18 consecutive years. Numbers are up at nearly every college in the country as of late, but not to this extent. So what is it? Of every small-sized public university between California and Cape Cod, what makes New Paltz the most attractive?

Part of the explanation lies in demographics. A whopping 67 percent of New Paltz students are women — the highest percentage of any campus in the 64-school SUNY system (other than the College of Optometry and the Fashion Institute), and nine points higher than the national average. As student populations across the country have become more female, universities that women find appealing only become more popular. So why are women flocking to New Paltz? One reason may be the college’s academic offerings. Education and art, two traditionally female-dominated fields, are considered New Paltz’s biggest specialties. In fact, New Paltz offers programs in the five majors — visual arts, communications, business, social sciences and history, and health professions and related clinical sciences — that increased the most in popularity between 2001 and 2006.

Geography plays a role as well. Besides Stony Brook, New Paltz is the comprehensive SUNY closest to the undergrad factory known as Long Island — far enough away to give teenagers the freedom they seek, but close enough to allow them to come home and let Mom do the laundry once in a while. For that reason, the school draws more and more interest each year from students who grew up in this affluent, population-heavy suburban area. More than 22 percent of New Paltz applicants hail from Long Island, a region that makes up just 14 percent of the state population.

Demographics and location aside, the quality and value of a New Paltz education cannot be overlooked. For a little less than $15,000 a year, students have access to 100 undergraduate programs (and, for a little more money, 50 graduate programs), 130 student organizations, and cultural programming that includes an art museum, three theaters, and a recital hall. The campus has grown in proportion to the number of transcripts and student essays its admissions office receives. Over the past decade, the school added two new dormitories, totally revamped one academic building with the latest SMART classroom technology, and opened a new athletic and wellness center; by the time next fall’s incoming freshman graduate, New Paltz will also sport a new science building, a renovated library and education building, and an expanded student union. Then there’s everything the New Paltz area offers its residents: a vibrant downtown; tons of outdoors activities; and a funky, unique atmosphere.

There’s no telling when — or if — the school’s popularity will subside. Like the latest cell phone fad or fashion trend, New Paltz benefits from a sort of homeroom-chatter multiplier effect — the more en vogue it appears, the more high school seniors will want to be part of the action. The influx of applicants has transformed the school, dramatically bolstering its academic reputation. “Fifteen years ago, I could call an admissions director and ask about getting a B- student in, and they would do it,” says Diana Babington, a guidance counselor at Spackenkill High School in Poughkeepsie. “Now, I could call for a 90s-average student, and they couldn’t help me.” Whatever the GPA of its student body, it’s apparent SUNY New Paltz is the place to be.
1 Hawk Dr., New Paltz. 845-257-2222; www.newpaltz.edu

 

Up next: Orange County Community College

 

 

Study group gathers at SUNY Orange (OCCC)
SUNY Orange students enjoy the sunshine and some studying on the campus’ green

Orange County Community College

By: Greg Ryan

Big changes are afoot at OCCC. In November, the state’s Department of Education bestowed “branch campus” status on the school’s Newburgh site, meaning that for the first time, students there could earn certain degrees (early childhood development and care, business management, and criminal justice among them) without ever commuting the 25 miles to the main campus in Middletown. The Newburgh site will reach full capacity when renovations to the Tower Building are completed in 2011 (a new classroom building in Newburgh should open by fall of 2010). Not to be left behind, the school’s Middletown home is set to undergo some growth spurts of its own over the next few years. A new Science, Engineering, and Technology Center will be built at the location, thanks to the college’s $25 million capital campaign, which was launched last year. These physical additions serve to enhance academics at the first county-sponsored community college in the SUNY system (and the first two-year college in the nation to offer an associate’s degree nursing program). Today, the school offers 38 degrees and certificates, ranging from the general (mathematics and natural science) to the career-specific (radiologic technology). Extracurricular activities on campus include Colt Rock Radio — an Internet radio station staffed by OCCC students — and a student senate.
115 South St., Middletown. 845-344-6222; www.sunyorange.edu

 

Up next: Dutchess Community College

 

 
 Dutchess Community College student works on a piece of art

Dutchess Community College

By: Greg Ryan

Talk about a bargain. Despite having the lowest tuition of any higher learning institution in the state, DCC is considered one of the finest community colleges in the SUNY system. Residents of Dutchess County have taken notice, too, as a third of the county’s high school graduates attend the school, which has a main campus in Poughkeepsie and a satellite campus in Wappingers Falls. Last year marked the college’s 50th anniversary, and it was quite the successful one — enrollment was up 4.5 percent as compared to the previous year, and has increased 34 percent since 1999. The school houses 10 academic departments and offers 63 associate’s degrees and certificates in business, the sciences, and the humanities. DCC has a full-fledged visual and performing arts department (including its own music school), and the school furthered its appreciation of the aesthetic by founding an arts studies program last year. A number of interesting speakers visit the college each semester, including New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, who spoke at the school in 2007. DCC takes its reputation as a junior college standout seriously, refusing to rest on its academic laurels: In an effort to attract the brightest learners, the school awards a full-tuition scholarship to any student who attended a Dutchess County high school and finished in the top 10 percent of his or her class. The investment seems to be paying off, as nearly 75 percent of Dutchess’ 32,000 graduates have settled in the Hudson Valley after graduating.
53 Pendell Rd., Poughkeepsie. 845-431-8000; www.sunydutchess.edu

 

Up next: Bard College

 

 

Bard College Fisher Center
Peter Aaron/Esto

Jewel in the crown: The Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College

Bard College

By: Evan Sparling

Bard College President Leon Botstein is the music director of both the American and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestras. So it’s no surprise that the arts rule at Bard, where the stunning 900-seat Fisher Center theater and concert hall continues to provide an ideal venue for performances by both students and internationally recognized artists. English and literature are also very popular majors. But according to Communications Director Mark Primoff, recent years “have seen a broadening of the demographic at Bard,” with an increasing number of students graduating with degrees in the physical and social sciences.

Still, Bard — commonly regarded as one of the top liberal arts schools in the country — retains its status as a liberal bastion of highly intellectual (and sometimes eccentric) students. There are no frats or sororities on campus, and sports don’t play much of a part in the college experience. The 1,700 undergraduates are more likely to be involved in passionate discussions, putting on performances, or going out to hear the latest music.

But Bard does encourage interdisciplinary study through several innovative programs such as the New Orleans Initiative, a student-led project that works with New Orleans communities to design neighborhood-level revitalization models; and the West Point-Bard Exchange, in which students from both institutions attend a seminar class on foreign relations, visit the other campus, and present final research projects to professors from both colleges. And Primoff stresses that even conservatory students are expected to participate in a dual-degree program, so they graduate with one degree in music and another in a chosen discipline “that can be history, or chemistry.” In addition to its traditional academic program, Bard recently added a new program in Kyrgyzstan to its already long list of study-abroad options. And school officials announced the expansion of its “Public High School–Early College” program, through which Bard “adopts” a New York City high school and designs a curriculum that allows graduates to receive both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in four years. Bard “wants to be a school that has an impact outside its borders,” says Primoff, “and last year we were very busy.”
30 Campus Rd., Annandale-on-Hudson. 845-758-6822; www.bard.edu

 

Up next: Culinary Institute of America

 

 

CIA kitchen
Cookin’ up a storm: CIA students get their hands dirty in the college’s kitchen

Culinary Institute of America

By: Evan Sparling

Let’s face it — food is hot. From the 24-hour Food Network to Rachael Ray’s own monthly magazine, it seems that Americans just can’t get enough of everything edible. And at the center of it all is Hyde Park’s Culinary Institute of America, arguably the world’s premier culinary college. Founded in 1946, the CIA has been turning out industry leaders long before the era of the celebrity chef. But now, top employers regularly recruit at the CIA, the median income of CIA graduates is significantly higher than the industry average, and two alumni — Cat Cora ’95 and Michael Symon ’90 — have even achieved the status of Iron Chef.

Enrollment at the selective institution remains steady at 2,700 full-time students, although spokesman Jeff Levine says the number of applications to the college has increased in recent years. Those talented enough to merit acceptance into the school follow an innovative course of study called a “progressive learning year,” during which they move up to a new class every three weeks. After two years, all students receive an associate’s degree.

In 1994, the college added four-year bachelor of professional studies (B.P.S.) programs in Culinary Arts Management, and in Baking and Pastry Arts Management. These students take classes in management, finance, foreign languages, and history, in addition to an 18-week externship at a restaurant or bakery, so that “when they come out with a bachelor’s degree from the CIA, they will be well-rounded,” Levine explains. The majority of students still graduate with a two-year degree, but the number enrolled in the bachelor’s programs has increased with each successive class. Today, 21 percent of students are in their third or fourth year at the institution. “Both degrees will get you all the hands-on experience you need to be a chef,” Levine says. The main difference between the two programs, he explains, is the maximum speed they allow graduates on the road to success. The four-year degree teaches students the management skills needed to reach the top levels (and salaries) of the culinary ladder more quickly.

About two-thirds of students live on campus and spend their free time participating in athletics and clubs. The biggest perk of all, though, is the chance to enjoy what must amount to the world’s most tantalizing college meal plan, which features entrées such as guava-glazed pork ribs and shrimp tempura on a daily basis. (Students do give back, though: Recently they’ve put their skills to good use by hosting a series of monthly theme dinners and donating the proceeds to charity.) Serious foodies, CIA students are expected to be equally serious about their future careers: all applicants for associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs must have at least six months work experience in a kitchen.

You don’t have to be the next Rocco DiSpirito, however, to take advantage of all the CIA has to offer. Amateur chefs among us can sign up for a number of continuing education classes at the Hyde Park campus. The CIA Boot Camps are two- to five-day intensive classes with CIA instructors that teach the ins and outs of one particular food subject, ranging from barbecuing to gourmet meals. “Saturday at the CIA” is a daylong series of chef demonstrations and lectures that cover cooking and baking basics (some are geared exclusively towards parents and teens). About 5,000 enthusiasts and 3,000 professionals participated in the school’s continuing education classes last year. But anyone studying at the CIA can become a master of the kitchen, provided he or she brings one vital ingredient. “The key to any student’s success,” explains Levine, “is a passion for food.”
1946 Campus Dr., Hyde Park. 845-471-6608; www.ciachef.edu

 

Up next: Mount St. Mary College

 

 
 Mount St. Mary College campus

Mount St. Mary College

By: Evan Sparling

In the heart of downtown Newburgh, nestled on 70 landscaped acres on two campuses, lies Mount Saint Mary College. Originally a teacher training institute founded by the Dominican Sisters, MSMC became a liberal arts college in 1959. While the education curriculum remains central to the school’s mission — one third of all students are enrolled in the education program — nursing and business are now the other two heavy-hitters at MSMC. Master’s programs are available in all three disciplines, and the Graduate School of Nursing continually turns up on lists of the best in the nation. The school recently renovated its nursing laboratories and erected a Mathematics, Science and Technology Center, which will help more teachers graduate with specializations in math and the sciences. Capital improvements to the tune of $75 million have already taken place. And the business school? The college’s new president, Fr. Kevin E. Mackin, who was appointed in July, has plans to raise its profile dramatically.

In fact, all eyes are on Fr. Mackin, who oversaw unprecedented growth at Siena College in Loudonville while he was president from 1996-2007. With the dismal economy, Fr. Mackin expects more adult learners to apply for admission, and the Mount has already adapted its curriculum to incorporate adult and continuing education students. They now offer nine accelerated bachelor’s degree programs, with most classes on the six-week schedule held in the evenings or on weekends. Adults seeking an enriching, not-for-credit learning experience can also enroll in one of the Mount’s L.I.F.E. programs, which explore the arts, history, music, and culture of the Hudson Valley. In recent years, applications — and acceptances — to the college have doubled; and while at one point it was considered a commuter school, 800 undergraduates now live on campus (another 800 undergrads commute), with much more student housing on the way. Says Fr. Mackin, whose curriculum plans include starting a criminal justice program: “We encourage skills of mind and habits of heart that will guide people through the challenges of life.”
330 Powell Ave., Newburgh. 845-561-0800; www.msmc.edu

 

Up next: Marist College

 

 

Marist College from the Hudson River
Rooms with a view: Set on a hill, the Marist campus is just a stone’s throw from the banks of the Hudson

Marist College

By: Evan Sparling

Until recently, college campuses were usually built on hilltops or surrounded by walls, isolating students and allowing them to become immersed in scholarship free of distraction. While it is perched atop a picturesque hill that slopes down to the banks of the Hudson, isolating students is no longer the goal at Marist College, which the Princeton Review recently named to its list of the “25 Most Connected Campuses in America.” The college will soon break ground on the Hancock Center for Emerging Technologies, which will feature high-tech classrooms and an “incubation, entrepreneurship center” so local businesses can take advantage of Marist students’ technological expertise. Marist also maintains partnerships with IBM and Cisco Systems, allowing students to gain valuable work experience. Those in the community can also utilize Marist’s “connections” via its numerous advanced and adult study options. “So much of the economy worldwide is based on the Internet,” explains Chief Public Affairs Officer Tim Massie, “so there is a heavy emphasis on computer technology in whatever field you study.”

Despite Marist’s commitment to technological education, Massie is quick to point out that “we’re not a tech school, we are a comprehensive liberal arts college,” with noted programs in both communications and business. Marist’s 5,000-plus students also break from virtual reality to develop real-world connections. Two criminal justice majors spent last summer interning with the U.S. Secret Service; a group of prominent students attended a private lunch and informal discussion with CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour last month; and the women’s basketball team has achieved national prominence since earning a spot in the 2007 NCAA Sweet 16. In fact, basketball (both men’s and women’s) plays a big role on this 180-acre campus where the students seem to burst with school pride. Massie (something of a renaissance man, he also teaches communications and religious studies) oversees a semester-long program in Rome, during which students receive private tours of the city’s historical monuments led by distinguished professors and historians. “The one thing I hear from Marist alums is that Marist prepares them,” declares Massie, “and that students are happy.”
3399 North Rd., Poughkeepsie. 845-575-3000; www.marist.edu

 

Up next: United States Military Academy

 

 

West Point campus and color guard
Ten-hut: Cadets march on the famous Plain at West Point

United States Military Academy

By: Evan Sparling

The tuition required to attend the United States Military Academy may be zero, but that doesn’t mean students (known as cadets) get a free ride. To gain admission to the prestigious institution, applicants must possess superior grades, be in top physical shape, and gain the nomination of their U.S. senator or Congressional representative. Once they arrive at the Point, cadets’ schedules are carefully regimented. Students are ranked by their academic performance (which comprises 55 percent of their total ranking), military performance (30 percent), and physical fitness level (15 percent). The rewards are many, however, for those strong enough to survive four years on campus. First, they gain entry into an exclusive group of Americans which includes many of history’s most respected military leaders (think Ulysses S. Grant) stretching back to the War of 1812. Secondly, they get one of the best educations available: U.S. News & World Report ranked West Point the number one public liberal arts college in the nation for 2009. The Academy was also ranked as having the fifth best undergraduate engineering program in the nation. Upon graduation, cadets are expected to give back: They are required to serve five years of active duty in the military, and three years of inactive reserve.

Today, life on the beautiful riverside campus remains the same, in many ways, as it was a hundred years ago, and the school grapples constantly to maintain a balance between tradition and modernization: a new $65 million, glass-walled library, which houses a coffee shop, was the school’s first new academic building in 36 years. Students in the academy are required to participate in sports, and Army’s varsity teams rank among some of the best in the nation. Recently, the USMA has been making some major changes, especially to its football program, which was shut out 34-0 this year by archrival Navy and has won only six of its last 24 games. A panel of alumni recently recommended a new offensive strategy, a shuffling of class schedules so that football players spend more time on the field in the fall and then make up missed classes in the spring, and a reorganization of West Point’s mandatory summer military training. “Winning is important,” wrote West Point Superintendent F.L. Hagenbeck in a letter to Army football fans. “The winning habit our cadets learn here at West Point translates into victory on our nation’s battlefields.”
626 Swift Rd., West Point. 845-938-2703; www.usma.edu

 

Up next: Vassar College

 

 

A view of the Vassar Library interior
Luxe library: With its buttressed ceiling and stained-glass window, Vassar’s library resembles a Gothic church

Vassar College

By: Evan Sparling

Since its founding in 1861 as an all-girls school, Vassar College has consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the nation. While it went coed in 1969 (and now has a male/female ratio of 40/60), the school maintains both its academic edge and its upper-crust reputation.

The 2,450 undergraduates, almost all of whom live on the beautiful Gothic-style campus, have no core curriculum to follow, but majors in English, political science, and economics are among the most popular. Students can also take advantage of one the largest undergraduate library collections in the country, a top-notch art museum, and a strip of trendy shops and cafés right across the street from campus.

Recently, Vassar has become increasingly aware of its standing locally as well as nationally, and has even launched a new Web site (http://neighbors.vassar.edu) to promote ties with the surrounding area. According to Jeff Kosmacher, the college’s director of media relations, Vassar “emphasizes to its students the importance of learning beyond the classroom and the laboratory.” With help from the college, hundreds of students each year complete internships, field work, and research in the Valley and in New York City. A free shuttle that traverses the city of Poughkeepsie, stopping at key locations like Poughkeepsie High School and Vassar Brothers’ Hospital, encourages students to get off-campus. And under a new program, students can receive federal work-study compensation for time spent working with local nonprofit organizations such as Dutchess Outreach and the Grace Smith House (a shelter for victims of domestic violence). The college also hopes to bring more members of the local community onto campus. A scholarship program instituted last year offers a full ride to eligible students from Poughkeepsie High School, and the college has begun to replace loans with grants for students with family income below $60,000. Local youngsters can come to Vassar to receive homework help from collegians, or attend summer sports and arts camps. On-campus events are open to the (adult) public throughout the year, including free stargazing evenings at the Class of 1951 Observatory, dance and music recitals in Skinner Hall, and the Arlington Street Fair and Farmers’ Market. “We encourage the public to take advantage of the resources that the college has to offer,” the Web site states.
124 Raymond Ave., Poughkeepsie. 845-437-7000; www.vassar.edu

 

Alma Matters
Graduates, we all know a picture is worth a thousand words — so show us some of your most memorable photos from your college days in the Hudson Valley. Our favorite picks could be shown on www.hvmag.com. Please include your name and hometown, college, major, graduation year, and a few lines about your photo (be sure to identify yourself). Send your digital images to edit@hvmag.com.

 

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