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Schools October 13, 2011  RSS feed

LaGuardia Students Adjust ‘ASAP’ To College

A Starting Point To Continue Ed.

Efrain Prado Jr. did not graduate high school until he was 21 and had one failed attempt at college. But despite these stumbling blocks, the 28-year-old remained determined to pursue a college degree.

After losing his job as a project manager at a New York-based construction company during the economic downturn, 42-year-old Roberto Chavez decided that he needed a college degree to get back into the workforce.

Monica Cimini was 14 years old when she entered into an arranged marriage in her native Bangladesh and was forced to leave school. Now 50 and living in the United States, she is pursuing the college degree that eluded her for years.

When it came time to choose a college, the three older adults decided to begin their college experience at LaGuardia Community College’s Accelerated Study in Associate programs (ASAP), a City University of New York (CUNY) initiative funded by the Mayor’s office.

While the majority of students enrolled in the five-year-old program are traditional college-age students, Dr. Bernard Polnariev, the ASAP dibe rector, stated that Prado, Chavez and Cimini are among a growing number of older adults who have discovered the program.

When ASAP was first launched in the fall of 2007, 18 percent of the students were 23 or older. In the fall of 2010, that number jumped to close to 25 percent.

Although this year’s fall enrollment figures have not yet been tabulated,

Polnariev forecasted that this class will exceed last year’s total.

In explaining why the program is luring older college students, Polnariev points to a number of features in the program, including a financial package that includes free tuition, textbooks and a monthly MetroCard.

For unemployed adults like Chavez, who view the recession as an opportunity to go back to school but are not able to afford the cost of college tuition, ASAP allows them to follow that course.

“If I had to pay tuition and purchase my books, I would not have been able to apply to college,” said Chavez, a father of two who lost his job in 2009. “This program is a godsend.” He is now majoring in business administration and plans on transferring to a four-year college when he graduates in 2012.

Another component of ASAP is a network of student services that ensures that the older student, who often is apprehensive about re-entering college following a long hiatus, makes an easier transition. Students are assigned an advisor who meets with them twice a month to discuss their academic progress as well as personal matters.

“Of course, the financial benefits are a real lure, but the academic and career advising component is especially a real plus for our older students,” said Polnariev. “The ASAP team works very closely with each other to make sure that there are no cracks in the students’ graduation pathway.”

“Having an advisor is like having your mother guiding you,” said Cimini, a liberal arts major who admitted having problems adjusting to college life. “I didn’t know how to read my class schedule until my advisor showed me. I do not know if I would be able to succeed without her assistance.”

Before enrolling in ASAP this past fall, Prado—a business administration major—said he had enrolled as an evening student at another community college but dropped out after a semester because he found the transition to be difficult.

“I did not have any guidance,” he said. “I knew that resources were available, but I just didn’t know where.” He said that has not been the case at ASAP: “My advisor guided me through the process.”

Advisors also keep in touch with their students’ professors who provide them with academic progresss reports on the students.

“Maintaining communication with faculty members is vital for student success,” said Polnariev. “It gives the student another level of appreciation and support.”

Along with advisement, the program offers tutoring and has on staff a career employment specialist who helps students chart their career direction.

Another feature that caters to older adults who suddenly find themselves juggling academic and personal demands is a flexible class schedule that permits them to take either day or evening classes. While Prado takes evening classes so that he can work full-time in construction during the day, Chavez takes classes during the day so he can help manage his wife’s acupuncture office in the afternoon.

To ensure that older adults are ready to tackle the academic demands of the program, ASAP offer freshmen who have remedial needs a summer initiative where they can sharpen their math, reading and/or writing skills before beginning their first semester.

Prado, who entered the program this past fall, said that his math skills were a little stale after being out of school for seven years, so he enrolled in the summer remedial math course.

“I passed and was thrilled,” he said. “It boosted my confidence. I am ready to start knocking down those doors.”

For more information on La- Guardia’s ASAP program, visit their website, www.laguardia.edu, or call 1-718-482-7200.