Supporters predicted that CUNY’s brand in the marketplace would soar. Critics predicted that the student population would eventually become imbalanced by race and class. Both predictions came true. Goldstein’s policies attracted unprecedented private donations and more students—274,000 students are now in degree-granting programs on CUNY’s two dozen campuses compared with 195,000 in 2000.
Perhaps Goldstein’s most prized achievement was Macaulay Honors College, created in 2001 as a rigorous oasis of interdisciplinary learning. Macaulay’s 1,880 students receive extras such as free admission to New York City events and performances. Most significantly, the honors students pay zero tuition. Macaulay has slowly become the whitest of all the CUNY campuses. Its black enrollment fell by half between 2006 and 2012, while Asian student numbers climbed by 6 percent. In 2012 the school was 54 percent white, 33 percent Asian, 4 percent black, and 9 percent Hispanic—making it the least representative of the city’s public school graduates.
It is interesting to note that while students in the Macaulay class of 2017 have about the same grade-point average (93) as the first cohort (class of 2005), average SAT scores there have shot up from 1288 to 1405. Also, only 56 percent of the students come from the city's public high schools, a very low percentage for a system designed specifically to serve that population.
The implications are far-reaching for the next generation of low-income students, who face fewer job and education opportunities than their parents did, and for the city, which could face both a brain drain and the burden of more unemployed, undereducated youth in the future.
Goldstein left the chancellor’s office last year vigorously defending the freshman-admissions policies as a fair and necessary element of the institution’s success story. “It’s not where you start,” Goldstein told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer in April 2013. “It’s where you end up with a degree.” As evidence, he pointed to the rise in black and Latino graduates from the senior colleges in the last decade: Many, he noted, had transferred in after years of remediation elsewhere.
CUNY officials interviewed for this story reiterated this position, asserting that large numbers of transfers have led to an increase on average in the number of black and Latino students attending CUNY’s top-tier colleges. “Access to public higher education involves more than one stream of entry,” said Michael Arena, CUNY’s director of communications and marketing.
But a close look at CUNY’s statistics suggests a different story. The total student body is indeed larger now than it was a decade ago, as is the number of those who have graduated with bachelor’s degrees of all races. But the numbers of black and Latino high school graduates enrolled in CUNY's highly selective colleges as first-time freshmen have declined markedly, from 3,190 in 2008 to 2,064 in 2013. At the same time, the overall numbers of black and Latino students have increased, from 4,763 to 6,127—showing that when it comes to CUNY's most selective colleges, transferring is increasingly the most viable option for blacks and Latinos, rather than entering as a first-time freshmen. Meanwhile, whites and Asians continue to command the majority of the transfer spots—on average 59 percent—at the top five colleges.*****