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New York in a Nutshell


New York in a Nutshell

Regina Peruggi

At Kingsborough Community College on Brooklyn’s waterfront, President Regina Peruggi oversees a sprawling campus that she likens to “the new Ellis Island.”
Students from 172 nations have enrolled this year in credit and non-credit courses that provide job training for the unemployed or underemployed, college credits that lead to an associate’s degree, and an entryway to higher education and a better life for New York City’s increasingly diverse population.
Despite the region’s economic downturn, enrollments at KCC this year are up by 2,000, to about 17,000 students.
“Students whose families are feeling the pinch see KCC as a wise investment,” says Peruggi, who grew up in the Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium. “And loads of adults who have lost their jobs are coming back to school for two-year degrees in technical fields, health care and graphic design.”
Peruggi began her career as a drug abuse counselor in a state rehabilitation center and then taught elementary school. In becoming KCC’s president in 2004, Peruggi returned to The City University of New York, where she had gotten her start in higher education in 1974 directing the York College Community Learning Center. By 1984, she was CUNY’s associate dean for adult programs and continuing education, developing literacy and workforce programs while building partnerships with business and city labor unions.
While working at CUNY, she earned her doctorate at Teachers College, and by 1990 was named President of Marymount Manhattan College. During her tenure there, which lasted until 2001, the College’s enrollment doubled, academic programs grew, the budget was balanced, and the school’s first dormitory was built. After she left she served for three years as president of the Central Park Conservancy, the non-profit group that manages Central Park.
Then came the opportunity to lead KCC, located at Manhattan Beach on a 70-acre waterfront campus that looks out at Sheepshead Bay and Jamaica Bay. Peruggi, the first female president in the College’s 40-year history, had no doubts in making the move.
“Community colleges have been a much undervalued sector in higher education,” she says. “They are only now being recognized.”
With recognition, however, have come concerns that, of the thousands of students who enroll in community colleges, not enough graduate. One obstacle is that so many arrive without adequate preparation for college-level coursework.
At KCC, the graduation rate is 37 percent—considerably higher than the 28 percent rate for community colleges across the nation, but still not where Peruggi would like it to be. To that end, she has instituted the “President’s Prep” a six-week course taken prior to enrollment to help students speed up their remedial work. She has expanded freshman-year learning communities, which link remedial, general education and student development courses so that students can earn credit while they improve their skills. And, she has engaged the campus in planning and development activities that have resulted in faculty and staff transforming almost every expect of the college experience at Kingsborough. KCC also works with 25 New York City high schools through the College Now program, which offers college-level courses for advanced students. These initiatives are part of Peruggi’s mission to send educated young adults out into the world to make their way in the 21st century.
“I really believe that higher education is the key to a better life,” says Peruggi, who, among her many civic activities, serves on The American Council on Education’s Commission on Lifelong Learning, as a commissioner on the Women’s Refuge Commission and as a member of the Advisory Board of the Student World Assembly. “If you believe that, then you will focus attention on what students need to be successful and do what’s necessary to make sure that they get that degree.”
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