Nestled between Michael Kors and Foot Locker at Cross County Center in Yonkers is a 12,000-square-foot space that offers not clothing and accessories but knowledge and opportunity.
It’s the Yonkers extension of Valhalla-based Westchester Community College, which opened in 2001 in a Cross County space now occupied by the Hyatt Place New York/Yonkers.
“What I like to say is we’re celebrating 20 years, but we’re looking to the future,” says Joseph Cooke, director of the Yonkers Extension Center.
What began with technology and general education classes has grown into a curriculum of liberal arts and business courses, along with a full complement of student support, from financial aid to tutoring to a social activities club.
“We try to offer as many student services as we can,” Cooke says.
Classes are held anywhere from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays — with some classes running until 10 p.m. That’s because the extension’s student body, ranging from 1,400 to 1,800 students, isn’t just comprised of the traditional 18 to 20 year olds in search of an associate’s degree but older adults looking to return to school, jump-start a career or switch gears. And while enrollment at community colleges, which mainly serve working-class students and those of color, has declined precipitously during the pandemic — a situation not likely to be remedied by the Biden Administration’s decision to forgo a plan offering two years free’ tuition to community college attendees — more older adults are enrolling at the extension, raising the median age of the student body. (The Biden Administration is instead looking to maximize federal Pell Grant awards — given to students in financial need who have not yet earned a degree or who are seeking postbaccalaureate teacher certification — a plan that is more appealing to conservatives and moderates.)
Many of the extension’s students come from Yonkers, Mount Vernon and the Bronx. And many are enrolled in what Cooke calls the extension’s “very strong” ESL (English as a Second Language) program. WCC has the largest English as a Second Language program in Westchester County. The program’s students range from those who can hardly speak English to those looking to polish their skills in the language.
“We’re here for everyone,” Cooke says and that includes students who will matriculate to other institutes of higher learning such as Yonkers neighbor Sarah Lawrence College. The two colleges have an agreement enabling WCC students who have graduated with an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree in childhood education or an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in early childhood to matriculate as juniors at SLC and earn their Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in liberal arts and sciences in two years or their bachelor’s and Master of Arts (M.A.) degrees in the art of teaching in three years.
“Sarah Lawrence is a neighbor and a partner,” Cooke says, who has sat on many Yonkers committees and boards.
“Sarah Lawrence always has a seat at the table,” he adds.
The same could be said for WCC and its Yonkers Extension Center.
For more, visit wcc.edu/yonkers.
WCC: A springboard to higher learning
For many students at Westchester Community College, the school is not an end but a beginning.
Recently, the college welcomed a new cohort of 18 students into its Honors College for the fall 2021 semester – the fifth such group since the Honors College was founded in 2017. The students are pursuing State University of New York (SUNY)- and New York State Department of Education (NYSDE)-approved honors-designated degrees in one of two curricula – liberal arts and sciences: social science; and liberal arts and sciences: humanities.
Accepted students receive guaranteed tuition coverage and substantial textbook stipends from the WCC Foundation, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. They will have to fulfill at least 40% of their program requirements at the honors level and maintain a 3.5 GPA (grade point average) to graduate with an honors-designated associate degree. These student scholars – who include Maria Lozada Irenes, a graduate of Yonkers Middle High School – also have access to specialized co-curricular programming, including the study abroad program offered in partnership with England’s Cambridge University, the Philosophia Honors Society, student conferences and symposia, student publications and internships.
“Westchester Community College is an institution where those with a passion to improve and achieve can find the resources and instruction needed to reach their goals,” WCC President Belinda Miles, PhD, said in a statement. “Students from all walks of life, with a diverse array of needs and interests, seek their opportunity on our campus. Our most recent Honors College students are not just an elite cohort; they exemplify the spirit of all our students. From the student whose life goal is to help teens in need of mental assistance, because she was told that adolescents like her shouldn’t have any mental issues, to the immigrant student who plans to become a lawyer and advocate for human rights, WCC will be preparing a new generation of change-makers whose vision and devotion will help make our region – and our nation – a better place.
“We are proud of the opportunities we offer our high-achieving students, such as those in our Honors College. WCC offers these students a tremendous foundation for pursuing their academic goals at such four-year institutions as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Columbia, Williams, NYU, Sarah Lawrence, as well as SUNY campuses and local colleges.”