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Baruch's the Leader that System Must Follow

30 November 1997 New York Daily News 28
(Copyright 1997 Daily News, L.P.)

Amid all the changes that have rocked the City University of New York during the last 30 years, one fact remains steadfast: By any measure, CUNY's Baruch College is still a great school and it's getting better.

The Manhattan senior college is recognized routinely by magazines like Money and Business Week for quality and value.

It has the highest graduation rate of any CUNY campus, and more than 300 of the world's largest companies recruit Baruch students every year.

But the real significance of Baruch, observers say, is the extent to which it represents a laboratory and a successful one for many of the ideas that the trustees of CUNY, and presumably their new interim chancellor, are now hoping to push systemwide. Board members named former Brooklyn College provost Christoph Kimmich to the interim post Monday.

"I think Baruch is doing outstanding work, and I want to encourage all of the senior colleges to follow their pattern," said CUNY trustee Herman Badillo, a frequent critic of almost all other CUNY campuses and vice chairman of the CUNY board.

In short, anyone trying to discern what CUNY's senior colleges might look like in the not-too-distant future should start by looking at Baruch. Here, talk of raising standards is real, not rhetoric.

In at least four areas remedial education, admissions standards, graduation requirements and aggressive private fund-raising Baruch has quietly set the bar as high or higher than other CUNY colleges.

"We do things a bit differently here," conceded Baruch President Matthew Goldstein, whose name frequently is mentioned as a candidate for chancellor of the 212,000-student CUNY system.

Baruch's independent streak is most noticeable in remedial education, under which all CUNY students are allowed to take high school-level math and English classes before moving to college-level coursework. Many have criticized these pre-collegiate courses as a financial and educational drag on the system.

In an effort to quell that criticism, CUNY trustees ordered senior colleges in 1995 to compress all remedial work into one year.

But Baruch went one step further, requiring students entering in the fall of 1996 to finish all remedial courses in one semester.

Hunter and Queens Colleges have since adopted the same goal, but last month Baruch dramatically upped the ante again. In a move almost as revolutionary as open admissions was 30 years ago, Goldstein announced that, as of next fall, Baruch no longer will offer any remedial courses.

"I think that each individual college ought to be doing what they do best," Goldstein said. "And I think remedial education is best done at {CUNY's} community colleges."

Baruch's admission standards also are as high or higher than all other CUNY campuses, and they are getting higher.

This year's freshmen had to have a combined total of five years of high school-level math or English, typically by their junior year. They also had to have a combined SAT score of 1100 or higher. No exceptions allowed.

Baruch is requiring that all applicants for its freshman 1998 class take the SATs, a step no other CUNY campus has taken, although Queens College is studying the same proposal for its 1999 freshmen. And Baruch is discussing raising its minimum SAT score to 1150 and requiring more high school coursework for
its 1999 freshmen.

No other CUNY campus is as explicit or as demanding in setting admission bench marks, and the results are clear. In 1997, 11,484 students applied to Baruch, but only 2,625 or 23% got in. By comparison, roughly eight out of every 10 applicants, or virtually all comers, got into City College last year.

"We just don't want to admit students to Baruch who are going to fail out after one or two semesters, because we would not be doing them a service or us a service," said Jim Murphy, director of admissions.

|And failing is not hard, given Baruch's tough academic standards. Just to get into the college's esteemed business program, for instance where 90% of undergrads end up students must take both calculus and statistics, not to mention a strong core of liberal arts courses. Again, no exceptions.

"You cannot deal with modern finance," business school dean Sidney Lirtzman explained, "unless you understand the mathematics of it."

Recent graduates agree. Charles Wiesenhart said he felt much more prepared than his peers at Deloitte & Touche a so-called Big Six accounting firm when he took a job there after graduating from Baruch in 1993.

"There was a lot of practical application to what was being taught," said the Ridgewood, Queens, native, who recalled one professor in particular who treated his students like employees.

"He required all his projects to be done on spreadsheets, and in addition to having the answer, you had to make it a presentable report, just as if it were being presented to management," he said.

The best proof of Baruch's value, however, might be found in Wiesenhart's paycheck. With his recent promotion to senior accountant, the 26-year-old son of a carpenter is pulling down $57,500 a year, just four years out of college.

He soon might be asked to give some of it back to his alma mater, in keeping with another of Baruch's break-from-the-pack initiatives.

Since 1990, Baruch has raised more than $30 million in donations from alumni, far outpacing all other CUNY campuses, with the possible exception of the much larger, much older Queens College. Goldstein raised the lion's share of this money the old-fashioned way: He asked.

One proud Baruch alum, William Newman was so pleased to be contacted by Goldstein back in 1993 that he has since given Baruch $9 million. His name now graces the college's state-of-the-art library, and his son's name can be found on the college's new Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute, the only school in the city offering an undergraduate degree in real estate.

"I didn't even know where the library was when I went to Baruch," said Newman, 71, a 1947 grad who is now chairman and CEO of New Plan Realty Trust, an owner of shopping centers in 23 states with assets of $1.2 billion. "But now it is payback time."

While relatively small in comparison to the college's total budget, that $30 million in private money has allowed Baruch to bolster its offerings in ways that other CUNY campuses can only dream about.

It has helped the college to endow its own professional repertory theater and art gallery. It pays for scholarships and faculty chairs. It keeps the library open late and on weekends, and it allows students to access otherwise expensive data bases from any of the library's 400 computer terminals.

"Who wants to give money to an institution that is wallowing in the bowels of mediocrity? I wouldn't," Goldstein said flatly.

"In the end, our goal is to provide the most rigorous, adaptable and relevant environment for learning, and if we can't do that, then we have no right being in the business."

Second of a two part series. CUNY AT THE CROSSROADS

Caption: PHOTOS BY BILL TURNBULL DAILY NEWS TOP OF CLASS: Baruch College staffer Lisa Miller (photo opposite) puts up flyer to keep students posted on all the latest information. Miller (above) speaks with students Denise Goedig and Peggy Navaez. Other students (photo top) are hard at work.

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