Proprietary Colleges Are Vital to New York City’s Higher Education Ecosystem

By: Jessica Walker

College is not a one-size fits all proposition. College graduates like Shakim Richardson and Nancy Robles-Guess know this firsthand.

Mr. Richardson, who grew up in Brooklyn, knew he would need a college that provided smaller class sizes and a personalized touch. “Berkeley College was the right fit because of the individualized attention I received from faculty and college personnel,” Mr. Richardson said. Mr. Richardson was a Student Government leader and belonged to numerous honor societies. During his time at Berkeley, he held internships at the Queens Borough President’s Office and the NYC Administration for Children’s Services, which aligned with his passion for giving back.

Mr. Richardson graduated from Berkeley College in 2018. This fall Mr. Richardson will begin the Sociology of Education Master’s program at NYU Steinhardt, as he prepares to become a teacher in Justice Studies. He is currently employed with Samaritan Daytop Village, a human services agency in New York City.

Nancy Robles-Guess is Executive Vice President at Eastern Funding, LLC, a commercial lender based in Manhattan that services small- and medium-sized businesses nationwide. As an immigrant from Costa Rica, Ms. Robles-Guess said at one time, college seemed unattainable to her.

A survivor of domestic abuse, Ms. Robles-Guess was a single mother of three on public assistance, when she enrolled at Berkeley College. “There were days when I didn’t know if I would be able to pay the rent or put food on the table, but I knew I would get through it,” said Ms. Robles-Guess.

At Berkeley College, Ms. Robles-Guess said she met committed professors whose mentorship and professional experience changed her life. While an undergraduate at Berkeley, she found employment in her field and began to rise up the career ladder while providing for her family. Ms. Robles-Guess then obtained a Master’s of Business Administration and is currently enrolled in a doctoral program.

I recently had the opportunity to meet Ms. Robles-Guess and Mr. Richardson during a New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Public Hearing on new rules being proposed by the DCA. The rules would only impact degree-granting proprietary colleges in New York City, even though the majority of New York City college students are enrolled in private non-profit institutions and public CUNY and SUNY schools.

Proprietary-sector degree-granting institutions comprise less than 10 percent of the more than 130 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in New York City. The majority of their students are of African-American and Latinx descent – students who are vastly underrepresented among college completers.

The history of proprietary education in New York State dates to the mid-1800s. In the 1930s, colleges like Berkeley (1936), Monroe College (1933) and LIM College (1939), were established in New York City to provide diverse access to a quality education.

These colleges have been engines of upward mobility for nearly 90 years. They prepare their students with the necessary competencies to fill the talent pipeline that fuels New York City’s robust economy.

A solution to student loan debt cannot be achieved by singling out for-profit institutions and trying to run them out of town, particularly when they serve a critical purpose in the city’s vast educational landscape. The accomplishments of individuals like Mr. Richardson and Ms. Robles-Guess matter.

Proprietary-sector colleges are important to the ecosystem of higher education in New York City and throughout the nation. We must preserve these institutions and support their students eager to join the New York workforce and accelerate their futures by earning college degrees.

Jessica Walker is president and CEO of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, an organization representing 1,600 member-businesses. Ms. Walker, of Harlem, NY, is a public policy expert who has advocated on behalf of New York City residents, neighborhoods and businesses for more than 15 years.