Grace (“Jinx”) Roosevelt

Selected Works

To link learning with action to improve the world was Audrey Cohen’s lifelong purpose.
The article makes a case for retaining the study of foundational texts in education programs.
The article compares the international relations theory of two seminal political philosophers – John Rawls and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

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Creating a College That Works: Audrey Cohen and Metropolitan College of New York

Creating a College That Works is a 1960s success story. Swept up in the tumultuous currents of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and President L. B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, Cohen, along with a dedicated group of associates, successfully pushed for new paraprofessional jobs in human service agencies while simultaneously creating a comprehensive training program for low-income women to fill those jobs. Over the years Cohen’s efforts evolved into what is now Metropolitan College of New York (MCNY), a fully accredited institution of higher education that offers bachelors and masters degrees in business, emergency management, human services, and education.

The achievements of Cohen and her colleagues did not come easily. In the college’s early years the women petitioned and marched and were harassed and rebuffed. But they persevered, and today the college they founded continues to graduate hundreds of students dedicated to improving their communities, workplaces, and schools in the New York metropolitan area.

What makes the college that Cohen created unique is the structure of its curriculum. Motivating Cohen’s educational activism was her desire to make a liberal arts education practical by relating humanistic learning to socially useful work. The result was a curricular model called Purpose-Centered Education that has generated course objectives, syllabi, and forms of assessment unlike any others in American higher education today.
Current concerns about the future of American higher education make the story of MCNY’s founding particularly compelling. At a time when the income gap between college-educated and non-college educated young people is growing, Cohen’s project has much to teach us about structuring curricula so that non-traditional adult students can complete a college degree. Around 60% of MCNY students identify themselves as Black or African American and 20% as Hispanic or Latino. Over 90% of the students at MCNY receive financial aid, and most come from neighborhoods characterized by low levels of household income and high levels of recent immigration. The story of how Cohen created an alternative form of college experience that meets the needs of inner city students is instructive for anyone interested in broadening educational opportunities.

In the context of the corporatization of higher education and the loss of its humanistic “soul,” the evolution of MCNY’s unique curriculum is also instructive. Bridging the age-old divide between vocational training and humanistic learning, the college that Cohen created demonstrates that the study of Dante and Du Bois need not be abandoned in the quest for gainful employment, and that job readiness need not be sacrificed to the pursuit of a broad-based liberal education. Cohen’s story shows how an educational institution can aim to produce both practical learners and reflective practitioners – students who are self-conscious about the purpose of their learning and who connect what they learn with what they do.

Finally, as the twentieth century recedes into our collective rear-view mirror, the founding of MCNY reminds us of the creative energies that the social changes of the 1960s released. Along with the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and student activism, the decade from 1964 to 1974 gave rise to hundreds of educational experiments aiming to dissolve the barriers of class, race, and gender that had marked much of the nation’s previous educational history. Today in educational settings from kindergarten to college, we see the integrative impulses of that era being replaced by separatist and utilitarian aims. The story of Cohen’s accomplishments can help twenty-first century parents, educators, and activists reflect on which idealistic experiments of the late twentieth century can be left behind and which ones merit being studied, sustained, and even replicated.

Creating a College that Works is written for people who are interested in progressive educational reform, women’s leadership roles, and the positive legacies of the 1960s. Woven throughout the book are references to the educational philosophy of John Dewey, whom Cohen never credited as a source of her ideas but whose assumptions about education as a social process are evident in the college that she created.