Out in Two scholars are committed—to graduating college within two years.
This may seem like a plausible feat to some. However, even though community colleges are called, “2-year schools,” a majority of their students do not graduate within two years, oftentimes due to work conflicts, family commitments, and financial issues.
Ten years ago, The New York Times cited statistics and statements from former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who vouched that only a small percentage of CUNY students graduated in two years.
BMCC President Antonio Pérez wrote a response letter to the Times, vowing to increase the two-year graduation statistics. With help from Dr. Marva Craig, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dr. Sadie Bragg, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, in 1999, Pérez initiated Out in Two, an academic scholarship program designed to help students graduate within two consecutive years.
According to Allana Hankey-Thomas, coordinator of the Out in Two scholarship program, within the past 10 years, 90 percent of students accepted into the program honored their commitment to graduate within two years.
Accepted scholars receive $1,400 for three consecutive semesters as well $550 for the completion of summer semester courses. They also receive priority registration but must maintain a 3.0 average, complete 12 degree credits each semester, volunteer their time in programs at the college, and sign a “contract” that will make sure they adhere to program guidelines.
Students also have the opportunity to join the Out in Two Club, which sponsors CUNY college visits, CUNY transfer workshops, and tours of CUNY colleges.
Bringing together old and new scholars
At the 10-year Out in Two alumni reunion, held in Richard Harris Terrace, the scholars who graduated this semester, including valedictorian Leslie-Ann Reid-Bacchus, mingled and reunited with each other, as well as faculty and staff.
Jason Kwok (’10) is currently studying film at Hunter College. “I knew I had to come to this reunion because I missed my Out in Two friends,” he said. He calls the program “challenging.”
“It was especially hard taking summer classes when sometimes you just didn’t want to, but I’m proud of myself for keeping my commitment,” he said.
His friend, alum Dominique Edwards (’10) will enroll at Hunter College this fall as an English major. “The program kept me so motivated and I feel very prepared for Hunter,” she says. “I really learned how to multi-task as an Out in Two scholar. You do have to push yourself, but if you stay positive and focused, you’ll truly benefit from the program.”
Edwards, who is considering a career as a court reporter or a journalist, says Out in Two kept her “disciplined and dedicated—traits I need for the future.”
BMCC President Antonio Pérez spoke at the reunion. “Many students would like to graduate in two years, but can’t. I told The New York Times, let’s remove the barriers and let those students who want to graduate in two years know they can get the financial and educational support they need to do it,” he said. “We will remove the obstacles, and if they want to do it, we’ll find the resources to make it happen.”
Dr. Sadie Bragg said that starting Out in Two was “one of President Pérez’s best visions.” She told the alumni: “You have proven his theory you can finish a 2-year school college in two years. Thank you for making his dream—our dream—come true.”
Dr. Marva Craig joked that she was going to keep her celebratory speech short, “just like you all did at BMCC.” She said Out in Two alumni have gone on to attend schools such as Hunter, SUNY Stony Brook and NYU.
According to Craig, most BMCC graduates get their degrees in four to six years. “We’re proud we selected you as Out in Two scholars,” she said. “And you should always feel at home here.”
Sharing his story
Adjodha Maharaj (’08) shared his personal story of success with his fellow Out in Two alums at the reunion. Maharaj grew up poor in Trinidad and Tobago with an alcoholic father and many siblings. He had to drop out of high school to help his mother and support his family, but always dreamed of a college education.
A friend in New York helped him apply to BMCC. Once accepted, more than 10 years after he left high school, he was anxious about entering BMCC as an older student. Eventually, Maharaj earned his GED and decided to give BMCC a try. “BMCC students are relaxed, very open and very friendly,” said Maharaj, who fit right in at the college. He was a peer mentor, a member of Phi Theta Kappa and performed with the Downtown Chorus.
And, of course, he was an active member of Out in Two, which he says helped him tremendously with tuition, staying on-track academically, and meeting new friends.
Maharaj graduated from BMCC in 2008 with a degree in Liberal Arts, and says he felt honored to sit on stage—and sing with the chorus—at commencement.
Aside from Allana Hankey-Thomas—and former Out in Two Coordinator Lesley Leppert McKeever, who now oversees the ASAP program—two professors truly inspired Maharaj and guided him through his duration at BMCC.
“Professor Eugenia Yao encouraged me to join the choir and we’re still friends to this day,” says Maharaj. “And Professor Peter Marcus inspired me to pursue a career in psychology.”
Maharaj recently graduated from Columbia University with a degree in psychology. He plans to pursue a Master’s degree in social work in London and then move to India and to work with at-risk children.
“Everyone knows about Columbia, and ask me about it,” says Maharaj. “But when I meet new people, I make sure they also know about BMCC.” He even talked up BMCC with friends he met on a recent expedition to Brazil.
“As Out in Two alumni, we’re part of a special group of people who strive for excellence,” said Maharaj. “This program has meant so much to me. Never forget where you come from—BMCC is where I come from.”
An ‘important’ program
At the reunion, alumni were given BMCC pins, participated in a raffle, were treated to live entertainment and a formal dinner, and watched a slideshow for a trip down memory lane.
“It’s really nice to be here with other alums,” said Dominique Edwards. “It’s also great for networking—you never know who you might meet.”
Hankey-Thomas called Out in Two “an important program. Seventy percent of students in the program graduated with a GPA of at least 3.0.”
Out in Two scholars do more than just maintain their grades and pledge to graduate early. They also give back—both on and off campus. They help facilitate Freshman Assembly, work as note-takers in the Office of Disability Services, volunteer at the New York Food Bank and with Big Brothers; Big Sisters, and more.
The scholars also operate as a club, where they meet to discuss the program, coursework, college applications and upcoming volunteer events. “The scholars feel a sense of belonging through Out in Two. They tell each other, ‘We have to do this together’,” says Hankey-Thomas. “They do Out in Two for themselves; to prove to themselves how strong they are. We’ve had students who went through a death in the family, or spent some time homeless, and they still graduated in two years—it’s amazing.”
Hankey-Thomas calls Out in Two scholars “passionate.” “I know of one scholar who stayed at the library all night with another scholar, helping her with her college applications. The student said to the other, ‘I am not leaving your side until you finish your applications; even if we’re here all night.’ That’s a type of peer support you can’t find just anywhere.”