Nationally-ranked Monroe College's Secret To Success: Student-centric Focus On Instruction

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Monroe College students

[Black Star Education Focus]

Over the next several weeks in our Education Series The Black Star News will conduct Q and A's with area colleges and universities. This week we visit Monroe College in a Q and A with Marc Jerome, Executive Vice President, Monroe College.

--College Ranked Nationally In Graduation Rate For Low-income and ethnic-minority Students

--Unique Three-Semester Approach

--Faculty: 52% African American descent; 30% Caucasian; 8% Hispanic or Latino; 7% Asian; and, 3% of two or more ethnicities.


BSN: What sets Monroe apart from the many other colleges and universities in the New York region?

MJ: Monroe College is a national leader in urban and international education. Since 1933, our success has been predicated on developing a learning platform that supports our students' success. Accordingly, what truly sets Monroe above other local institutions is as much how we teach [not just what we teach].

Few colleges, local or otherwise, can match Monroe College's track record creating a learning environment that is truly tailored to support the academic success of students, especially those who may not have had the ideal degree of academic discipline or educational opportunities in their earlier years to aptly prepare them for college-level studies.  Our student-centric higher education approach prioritizes hands-on academic experiences, practical and relevant academic programs, flexible learning schedules, small class size, and committed and engaged faculty to ensure that students are well positioned for career success upon graduation.

We take exceptional pride in our above-average graduation rates, particularly among minority and low-income students. Indeed, we awarded more undergraduate degrees to black and Hispanic students than any other college in New York State in 2010, and have remained among the top three institutions to do so year after year since then. Worth noting: In a recent annual study by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education Magazine, virtually all of Monroe’s associate degree programs, and two of its bachelor’s degree programs, ranked among the Top 10 in the nation for graduating minority students.

Our faculty and administration work diligently to ensure that students have the resources and assistance they need to remain engaged and on track with their education. For instance, we have developed an "early detection" process to identify students showing signs of potential failure and making sure they don't fall through the proverbial cracks. Instead, we reach out and work with the student to identify their challenges, discuss their solutions, and find a workable option to keep them in the classroom whenever possible.

Furthermore, Monroe’s EASE program for English language learners provides students the opportunity to earn college credit as fully matriculated students while improving their English skills. The program is a partnership between Monroe College and the CPLC Education Center, a leading provider of English language training and intensive academic preparation for college bound students.

Another point of differentiation: We adhere to a three-semester schedule, which enables students to complete their studies and ultimately receive their diplomas sooner than they would at most institutions. Minimizing the breaks between semesters keeps students more focused, which in turn improves program completion rates.

Finally, Monroe College’s tuition and fees are among the lowest of any private college in New York State, as recognized by U.S. News & World Report in 2013.

BSN: What are some of the courses or majors that the school is best known for?

MJ: Monroe College’s Culinary Arts Program is one of the most competitive of its kind and routinely garners top awards at both local and national competitions attended by the top culinary schools in the country. It has been profiled in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, here and here.

Founded in 2009, its students have thus far won nearly 550 awards, of which more than 25 represent medals at the state level. Monroe recently took first place at the American Culinary Federation (ACF) 2015 New York State Championship competition, and has secured the top honor – the Marc Sarrazin Cup – at the Salon of Culinary Art Competition during the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show in New York City three out of the past four times it has participated.

Additionally, Monroe’s critically-acclaimed neighborhood restaurant on the New Rochelle campus, The Dining Lab, provides culinary students with authentic restaurant training and a venue to showcase their talents and culinary innovations, while also providing Monroe's hospitality management program undergraduates the opportunity to broaden their practical experience in a real-world customer setting.

Many of Monroe’s Culinary Arts graduates achieve notable career success, finding positions with renowned restaurants. In fact, 2010 culinary graduate James Daversa was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to France’s prestigious Institut Paul Bocuse last April after participating in a culinary competition hosted by world-renowned Chef Daniel Boulud.

Furthermore, Monroe’s Criminal Justice program is the second largest program in New York State. Founded in 2003 as a service-oriented response to the September 11th attacks, Monroe offers an associate degree, bachelor’s degree and graduate degree in Criminal Justice that helps prepare future law enforcement officers, social justice workers and emergency responders. In October, Monroe’s School of Criminal Justice hosted a symposium to address active shooter response incidents, attended by the Chief of Newton Police Department Michael Kehoe and leading officials from the NYPD, John Miller, Vincent Giordano and Daniel Oleks.

Monroe also has one of the largest MBA programs in the New York metropolitan area offered through its King Graduate School, helping students develop the competencies that corporate executives possess in leading and managing a competitive environment. Concentrations are available in Finance, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Community Development, Healthcare Management and Information Technology. Similarly, Monroe’s School of Business & Accounting, which offers associate and bachelor’s degrees, regularly sends top graduates to work at the big four accounting firms: Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young and KPMG.

BSN: How has the school managed to have a diversified student body – how much of it is due to outreach and what kind of outreach programs are these and how does the school reach its target base?

MJ: While Monroe College's reputation for fostering the success of minority students is well-known within the higher education community, we earned it through the programs that we developed and equally important, the outreach that we do each year to ensure that high school guidance counselors and others likely to help students make that all-important decision of where to go to college are familiar with our programs, our learning philosophies, and the impressive outcomes we produce. Some of our outreach specifics:

Each year, Monroe hosts a Male Empowerment Event for minority high school students, which seeks to inspire and embolden high school African-American and Latino students to pursue an advanced degree and ultimately, a professional career. Last year, over 40 leading male professionals, including judges, lawyers, doctors, bankers and entrepreneurs, offered their mentoring and advice to students during the event.

We also offer the “Male Empowerment Institute”, an initiative at our Bronx campus that aims to not only facilitate young Black males’ academic success, but to help them become self-aware, confident and socially responsible men. Eligible incoming freshmen are invited to join the program and, as part of this optional commitment, participants attend twice-weekly mentoring sessions where they can receive guidance with their studies and various other issues. This initiative includes volunteer opportunities, etiquette training, mock job interviews and public speaking skills development. Thus far, it has proven not only hugely popular, but successful in driving student engagement.

Last September, we marked the 10-year anniversary of our Jumpstart Program, which allows high school students in the New York metropolitan area to take college courses at Monroe free of charge. Students are granted three college credits upon successful completion of the course and could be eligible for scholarships and grants upon acceptance to Monroe.

Our Culinary Boot Camp for high school seniors provides students the opportunity to work in a professional kitchen and practice their culinary skills in a college setting.

We also host the “America’s Best High School Chef and Pastry Competition” for high school seniors nationwide who are interested in pursuing a college degree in culinary arts or baking and pastry arts. The winners are awarded full academic scholarships to Monroe.

BSN: What kind of financial packages, scholarships or work-study programs are available to students?

MJ: In addition to federal and state financial aid, Monroe makes a variety of scholarships available to incoming freshman and students transferring to its bachelor’s degree programs. All undergraduate scholarship students are required to apply for the Federal Pell Grant as well as the TAP Grant from New York State, the figures for which are then subtracted from the total cost of a student’s tuition and fees.

Monroe also offers grants for incoming freshman, continuing students, online students and graduate students, such as the Monroe Tuition Grant, the International Student Grant, the New York Metro Grant, and the Graduate Law Enforcement Grant, among others. Some related specifics:

Monroe participates in the federal work-study program, a federally funded financial aid employment program, for full-time students enrolled in either an undergraduate or graduate program. Eligibility is based on need and is determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the funds available at the time of application.

Every student is required to meet with one of Monroe’s Financial Services Counselors to discuss the options that are available to them. In fact, Monroe’s Office of Loan Management provides free personalized student loan counseling to both current and former students, offering tips and assistance on repayment options, finding your loans, budget management techniques and resources, financial literacy, etcetera, even after graduation.

BSN: What proportion of the student body is local New York City area? New York state? National? International?

MJ: Monroe College enrolls nearly 7,000 students and graduates nearly 3,000 students every year. For context, there are community colleges in our area that have on-time graduation rates below one percent; our graduation rates, by comparison, are approximately 40 times greater.

Nearly 66 percent of Monroe College's current enrollment across all programs hail from one of New York City's boroughs. An additional 16 percent live elsewhere in the state. To round out the rest of the metro New York area, another three percent live in New Jersey and two percent live in Connecticut.

We have a particularly diverse international student body, currently including more than 860 international students from six continents. In addition to its strong representation from Caribbean nations, our current enrollment includes a large, diverse Hispanic population from South America, and a significant number of students from Japan, Korea, the Indian subcontinent and China.

BSN: Please give us a brief history of the school and give us an indication of how it's grown in terms of student body and campuses and over what time frame.

MJ: Monroe College was founded in 1933 under the guidance of teacher Mildred King on Boston Post Road, in the West Farms section of the Bronx. It began as the “Monroe School of Business”, consisting of just four small classrooms and seven students.

In 1936, Harry Jerome joined the school, bringing with him a similarly robust commitment to education. Before long, the seven initial students became 145. Tuition was just $5 for an evening session and $10 for a week.

By the end of World War II, Monroe found itself adapting to a new audience, including veterans and women who needed the skills to begin new jobs and find their place in a post-war society. Demand was keen for workers in the emerging field of data processing.  

By 1966, the first computer arrived, prefacing an increase in the school's size and the 1967 opening of the Fordham Campus. The original Boston Post Road campus closed in 1977 and, one year later, Stephen Jerome became president of the college.

In 1983, Monroe celebrated its 50th anniversary with the opening of a branch campus in New Rochelle. This suburban campus in the heart of Westchester became an educational destination for county residents along with those from more than 20 states and an increasing number of international students.

It was in 1998 that Monroe developed and offered its first distance learning courses on the Internet. By 2001 this program had grown to include 30 online courses with over 400 students registered. In addition, growth of Monroe's traditional programs led to expansions at both the Bronx and New Rochelle campuses.

Now well into its ninth decade and with nearly 7,000 students, Monroe is recognized as a national leader in urban and international education, providing a focused, career-oriented, quality education to students.

BSN: There was a recent article in The New York Times about how difficult it is for African American student graduates to secure employment and given the statistics, in December for example while the general population rate of unemployment was 5.6% African American unemployment was 11.4%, how good of a job does Monroe do in terms of matching graduates with recruiters?

MJ: First, a general overview of our job placement services: Monroe College has a dynamic Career Services team that provides counsel and support to current students and graduates. Among the services provided:

Career assessments to match personal interests, personality, abilities, and strengths with potential career paths.

Resumé and cover letter evaluation and guidance.

Assistance finding and applying for full and part-time jobs.

Free access to Mustang JobLink, our internet-based job search platform.

Internship coordination and advisement.

Practice interviews and practical advice on interview techniques.

Career fairs and on-campus recruitment events featuring hundreds of recruiters and HR managers.

Workshops on personal branding, including; resumé writing, interviewing, networking, social media and more.

Every year, Monroe College hosts several career fairs attended by 800-plus students and graduates seeking new career opportunities. Over 100 top organizations participate, including companies such as Montefiore Medical Center, KPMG, Time Warner and the NYPD, who offer students the opportunity to learn about the employer, meet hiring managers, and learn what skills employers find most desirable.

As well, we've developed local and national corporate partnerships with companies looking for new talent. These lead to internships, employee recruiting, customized workforce training and educational grants. In fact, last summer Monroe announced a partnership with Ovation Corporate Travel to form the Ovation Academy, which offered a state-of-the-art travel consultant training program for entry-level employees.

Over the course of 10 weeks, students received instruction in customer service, geography and the travel industry, salesmanship and corporate protocols, and the travel management software program Sabre. Seven out of ten students who successfully completed the program recently joined Ovation Travel as junior travel consultants.

Additionally, Monroe places over 1,000 interns each year in positions related to their career field of interest. During the 2012-2013 academic year, 1,574 Monroe students completed real world internships. Recent Monroe graduates interned at companies from both the private and public sectors such as MTV, the NY Department of Labor, the Nassau County Supreme Court, the March of Dimes and JPMorgan Chase.

BSN: Which companies or agencies have been the best in terms of hiring Monroe graduates?

MJ: The following companies have been the top employers of Monroe College graduates in a fulltime capacity in the past four years: JP Morgan Chase; Montefiore Medical Center; New York City Board of Education; New York City Police Department, NYPD; Mount Sinai Medical Center; New York Presbyterian Hospital; Open Door Family Medical Centers, Inc.; New York City Department of Corrections; and Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center.

BSN: How diverse is the faculty body at Monroe?

MJ:  Monroe College’s faculty hails from a broad range of racial, ethnic, cultural and social backgrounds and the unique perspectives each brings to the classroom is of significant benefit to the institution and student body alike.

While many don't immediately think of describing group diversity in terms of professional experiences, it is apropos to do so with respect to the particular makeup of our faculty as they have quite impressive and varied credentials. While some have focused their careers strictly as academics, others bring extensive current and prior experience in the fields that they teach, bringing the concept of “real-world education” to their classrooms. For instance, classes within Monroe’s School of Criminal Justice are taught by New York Supreme Court Justices, a former Deputy Commissioner of Probation and an NYPD Chief, as well as inspectors, captains and sergeants.

Roughly 52 of Monroe’s faculty are of African American descent, 30 percent are Caucasian, 8 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 7 percent are Asian and 3 percent are of two or more ethnicities.

BSN: Any other relevant information?

MJ: While there's much more to Monroe College's impressive story, there are some noteworthy items that may be of interest:

In 2011, Monroe College implemented a financial literacy program, DREAM -- Debt Reduction, Education, Assessment & Management, for all students and graduates, which encompasses all areas of money management, career development and general life skills. The program provides students with in-class financial literacy sessions, online tools and peer assistance in managing student loans and finances in general. It has received national recognition for “Excellence in Debt Management” from USA Funds, a company that advocates for underprivileged students.

In February 2014, Monroe College was ranked the number one regional university for exceeding predicted graduation rates by U.S. News & World Report. That same month, Monroe was also ranked as having one of the best online bachelor’s degree programs in the nation by the same publication. Additionally, the college was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as having one of the best online bachelor’s degree programs for veterans.

In April 2014, Washington Monthly magazine ranked Monroe College among the top 100 Master’s Universities in the nation.

Monroe College's athletics program is very well-regarded, and boasts an impressive record in terms of championships and recruitment to NCAA schools. Indeed, its NJCAA athletic program often serve as a stepping-stone for talented athletes, enabling them to improve their academic credentials, build up their athletic résumé, and ultimately increase their recruitment appeal to NCAA Division 1 schools.

This past season, Monroe’s women soccer team won the NJCAA Championship and the men were runner-ups. Furthermore, earlier this month one of Monroe's football players signed with Oklahoma and another with Idaho, both of which have significant football programs. As well, the NSCAA, National Soccer Coaches Association of America, last month named Monroe coach Jon Garbar as Coach of the Year and Monroe student Lorina White as Player of the Year. 

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