There are too many worms. In a mid-Manhattan classroom, 20 applicants write their thoughts about going to community college on paper cutouts and stick them to a poster of a tree — multicolored, tapered leaves for hopes, square bits of trunk for strengths, squiggly worms for fears. The worms dominate.
For these students, college is not an assumption but an aspiration, a potential salvation from the poverty most grew up in. Several would be the first in their families to attend college — some are the first to speak English — so they get no guidance from home about the leap to that alien plane. Most of them are applying to community college because they know, or suspect, that their high school grades and test scores are not good enough to get them into four-year colleges.
All have applied for the first class ever admitted to the City University of New York’s new two-year college, set to open next month, and they are gathered at the college on this March night because of a requirement that applies to no other school within CUNY — indeed, few schools anywhere. The system will not consider their applications until they have attended a lengthy information session, followed by one-on-one interviews with counselors, to be sure they understand just what they would be getting into.
They learn this night that the New Community College (officials want to give it a catchier name someday, ideally that of a generous benefactor) would be unlike any they have heard of.