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CUNY’s Key Role in Expanding Access to Tech Careers

Report - November 2020

CUNY’s Key Role in Expanding Access to Tech Careers

Part of our ongoing research on how to create a more inclusive economy in NYC, this data brief shows that CUNY has made crucial progress in producing STEM grads. Tapping this talent pool, and making further gains in the years ahead, will be key to closing the opportunity gap for tech careers.

by Charles Shaviro, Laird Gallagher, and Eli Dvorkin

Tags: higher education economic opportunity tech community colleges innovation economy

For New York City to make significantly more progress helping New Yorkers from lower-income, diverse backgrounds to access technology careers, the City University of New York (CUNY) will need to play an increasingly important role. While the city is home to a number of workforce training programs that prepare New Yorkers for the well-paying jobs in the tech sector, CUNY is uniquely well-positioned to address the tech opportunity gap at the necessary scale.

This new analysis shows that CUNY is already making crucial progress, with the total number of degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) granted annually nearly doubling over the past 10 years—rising by 93 percent, from 4,671 in 2009-10 to 9,013 in 2018-19. The total number of CUNY STEM graduates has shot up across every demographic group, and increased at 19 of CUNY’s 20 campuses that grant STEM degrees. 

However, this report finds that progress is still needed, particularly in the most in-demand degree programs. While Black and Hispanic students account for 55 percent of all students enrolled at CUNY, they received just 31 percent of computer science degrees in 2018-19. At the same time, just 19 percent of computer science degrees at CUNY were awarded to women, even though women comprise 58 percent of CUNY’s overall student population. When gender and ethnicity are considered, even starker disparities emerge: despite making up 18 percent of the CUNY student body, Hispanic women received just 7 percent of all STEM degrees and only 4 percent of degrees in technology—the lowest shares of any demographic group.

Overall, we find that the number of STEM degrees granted by CUNY colleges has grown tremendously in recent years, with major gains for Black and Hispanic students and women, and notable increases at both senior and community colleges. Today, CUNY is graduating nearly 10,000 students annually with STEM degrees—a major milestone for the city’s higher education system and an indicator that thousands more New Yorkers from lower-income backgrounds are being prepared for the jobs and industries that are poised to lead the city’s economic recovery.

This report finds that within the mix of STEM fields at CUNY, the biggest increases have been in technology degrees. The number of annual technology graduates has risen 145 percent over the past decade, increasing from 1,597 in 2009-10 to 3,907 in 2018-19. Engineering graduates have jumped 87 percent, from 525 in 2009-10 to 984 degrees granted in 2018-19. Science graduates have increased 77 percent, from 1,813 in 2009-10 to 3,215 in 2018-19, and mathematics degrees have grown by 23 percent, from 736 degrees in 2009-10 to 907 degrees in 2018-19.

Significant growth in STEM graduates is taking place at nearly every campus in the CUNY system. The number of community college STEM graduates has increased 31 percent over the past four years, from 1,739 to 2,275, and the ranks of senior college STEM graduates have risen 35 percent, from 5,008 to 6,738. In fact, 19 of the 20 STEM-degree-granting CUNY schools have increased their STEM graduates since 2015-16, the first year that data on degrees granted by major/college was made available (the one exception is Kingsborough Community College, which saw a 6 percent decrease).

 More CUNY students of all backgrounds are graduating with STEM degrees. Our analysis shows that over the past four years, the number of Asian/Pacific Islander students graduating with a STEM degree has grown by 52 percent (from 1,982 to 3,005), while the number of Hispanic STEM graduates has grown by 41 percent (1,201 to 1,696), Black STEM graduates by 31 percent (1,599 to 2,088), and white STEM graduates by 13 percent (1,952 to 2,205). The number of women graduating with STEM degrees is also up 36 percent, increasing from just 2,661 women in 2015-16 to 3,608 women in 2018-19.

But while CUNY has made strides in expanding the pool of students who gain STEM degrees each year, Black and Hispanic students—and especially Black and Hispanic women—are still underrepresented in these programs. In 2018-19, Hispanic students made up 30 percent of all enrolled students at CUNY but accounted for just 19 percent of all STEM graduates. Black students comprised 25 percent of CUNY’s overall student population, but just 23 percent of STEM graduates. Black women make up 16 percent of the CUNY student body but earned just 11 percent of all STEM degrees. And Hispanic women, despite making up fully 18 percent of the CUNY student body, accounted for just 7 percent of total STEM graduates.

In some of the most in-demand degree programs, Black and Hispanic students are even more underrepresented. In 2018-19, out of 1,063 total computer science degrees granted by CUNY colleges, just 157 (15 percent) went to Black students, and 170 (16 percent) went to Hispanic students. By comparison, 510 computer science degrees (48 percent) went to Asian students, and 223 went to white students (21 percent). Just 19 percent of computer science degrees were awarded to women.

The underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic women in key STEM disciplines is striking. For example, Black and Hispanic women received fewer than 9 percent of all Engineering degrees, despite making up over one-third of CUNY’s student body.

From Bronx Community College to the College of Staten Island, the growth of STEM is opening important new pathways into the companies and industries—including tech, healthcare, and engineering—driving much of the city’s high-wage job growth and expanding access into these careers for thousands of students from lower-income communities. To build on this important progress city and state policymakers and CUNY leaders should take steps to continue these trends and ensure that every CUNY college is making strides. At the same time, more work needs to be done to close the access and opportunity gaps for those students, especially Hispanic students and women, who remain significantly underrepresented among STEM graduates.

There are numerous factors that contribute to differences in representation between STEM graduates and overall CUNY enrollment. But there are concrete steps that the city can take to continue to bolster STEM enrollment and degree attainment among students from lower-income, diverse backgrounds.

  • Increase support for K–12 STEM skills-building and exploration programs in under-resourced neighborhoods. CUF’s previous research finds that closing gaps in the availability of early childhood STEM education could have the greatest impact on expanding access to STEM degrees and careers over the long term. This will require continued expansion of successful initiatives like Computer Science for All (CS4ALL) and the city's P-TECH high schools, but it also requires the city to significantly expand computing education in grades K-5. By building excitement about STEM pathways from the earliest years of a child’s life, New York City can encourage far more underrepresented students to pursue further opportunities in STEM fields as they grow older.
  • Raise the visibility of New York City’s diverse STEM graduates through creative promotion and mentorship. To help attract more underrepresented students to STEM fields, New York City and CUNY should work together to raise the visibility of diverse STEM graduates who are finding success in the workplace—especially Black and Hispanic women—and expand mentorship programs that connect current students to peers already working in STEM fields. A major campaign showcasing the achievements of underrepresented STEM graduates in fields like tech, scientific research, and engineering would help students from all backgrounds see themselves in science and technology careers.
  • Bolster wraparound services to support lower-income students. The ongoing economic crisis caused by the pandemic will require a new level of support for students’ economic, academic, and emotional needs. In order to help more low-income students earn a credential in the months ahead, the city and state should expand support for CUNY’s efforts to provide childcare, food and housing assistance, mental health counseling, and screening for benefits, among other basic needs, which will help ensure that more of CUNY’s low-income students are able to stay enrolled and graduate.
  • Expand CUNY’s most effective programs across the system. LaGuardia Community College, City Tech, and the Borough of Manhattan Community College, among others, have succeeded in rapidly growing the number of STEM graduates. CUNY should apply what’s working at these colleges—including important new industry partnerships—and replicate this approach across the other STEM degree-granting colleges.
  • Employers need to embrace CUNY’s growing role in developing STEM talent. Industry leaders and local employers should take notice of the 10,000-plus New Yorkers graduating from CUNY every year with a STEM degree. To encourage the further development of this important talent pipeline, companies should expand efforts to recruit from CUNY and make CUNY a key part of how they seek out new hires and implement efforts to increase diversity and inclusion.
  • Continue to support and expand ASAP. CUNY's ASAP program is not only among the nation's most successful efforts to boost community college graduation rates, it also has had a positive impact on STEM students' academic outcomes. Moreover, the recently established BNY Mellon Foundation ASAP Transfer Scholarship is helping to support select ASAP graduates who transfer to a CUNY senior college to pursue a STEM or business degree.

This report, which is based on the most recently available data from CUNY’s Office of Institutional Research, includes the following key findings:

Over the past decade, the number of CUNY STEM graduates annually has nearly doubled.

  • The total number of STEM degrees granted annually at CUNY colleges has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, rising 93 percent from 4,671 in 2009-10 to 9,013 in 2018-19.
  • The growth in CUNY STEM graduates has outpaced the growth in non-STEM graduates by over 55 percent. (93% growth vs. 37.8% growth; +4,342 vs +13,210)
  • Since 2013-14, STEM’s share of all CUNY degrees has risen from 12 percent to 15.8 percent.
  • Since 2009, the number of degrees granted each year in Technology has grown by 144.6 percent, an increase of 2,310 degrees. Science degrees have risen by 77.3 percent or 1,402 degrees, Engineering by 87.4 percent or 459 degrees, and Math by 23.2 percent or 171 degrees.

STEM degree attainment has increased across every demographic group at CUNY, with the greatest increases recorded by Asian students.

  • The number of Asian students graduating with a degree in STEM grew by 51.6 percent (+1,023 students) from 2015-2016 to 2018-19, increasing from 1,982 students to 3,003 students in just four years.
  • The number of STEM degrees granted to Women grew 35.6 percent over the same period, rising by 947 from 2,661 in 2015-16 to 3,608 in 2018-19.
  • Male STEM graduates rose 32.3% (+1,319) over the four years, from 4,086 students to 5,405 students.
  • From 2015-16 to 2018-19, Hispanic STEM graduates increased by 41.2 percent (+495 students) from 1,201 to 1,696 students, while Black STEM graduates grew by 30.6 percent (+489 students) from 1,599 to 2,088 students.
  • White STEM graduates increased 13.0 percent (+253 students), from 1,952 to 2,205 students.

19 of the 20 STEM-degree-granting CUNY campuses are producing more STEM graduates since 2016, although a few campuses are driving the overall increase.

  • All but one of CUNY’s 20 STEM-degree granting colleges experienced an increase in STEM graduates between 2016 and 2019.
  • Two CUNY schools—New York City College of Technology (NYCCT) and City College—produce more than 1,000 STEM graduates per year. In 2018-19, NYCT graduated 1,379 students while City College produced 1,153.
  • In total, CUNY’s senior colleges granted 6,738 STEM degrees in 2018-19, 34.5 percent more than the 5,008 they granted in 2015-16, while the community colleges granted 2,275 STEM degrees in 2018-19, 30.8 percent more than the 1,739 degrees granted four years prior.
  • New York City College of Technology and LaGuardia Community College have added the largest number of annual STEM graduates, granting 370 and 310 more STEM degrees in 2018-19 than in 2015-16, an increase of 36.7 percent and 76.4 percent, respectively.
  • Among schools with more than 100 annual STEM graduates, LaGuardia Community College has seen the fastest growth in STEM graduates, increasing 76 percent since 2015-16, followed by Lehman College (67 percent), Medgar Evers (65 percent), and Queens College (56 percent).
  • The seven colleges that now graduate more than 600 STEM students annually combined for 5,851 STEM graduates in 2018-19, 65% of CUNY’s total. (In order of # of grads: NYCCT, City College, LaGuardia, Queens College, Baruch College, BMCC, Hunter College).

STEM Degrees Granted, 2018-19
CollegeScienceTechnologyEngineeringMathematicsTotalSTEM Share of All Degrees
Medgar Evers394510545035.2%
Staten Island166103673136713.2%
Graduate School2072401324425.1%
John Jay10768001754.3%
Professional Studies078007810.1%

All four STEM disciplines are growing, led by technology degrees.

  • Technology degrees granted grew by 2,310 (+144.6 percent), from 1,597 in 2009-10 to 3,907 degrees granted in 2018-19.
  • Engineering degrees granted grew by 459 (+87.4 percent) from 525 in 2009-10 to 984 degrees granted in 2018-19.
  • Science degrees granted grew by 1,402 (+77.3 percent), from 1,813 in 2009-10 to 3,215 degrees granted in 2018-19.
  • Mathematics degrees granted grew by 171 (+23.2 percent), from 736 in 2009-10 to 907 degrees in 2018-19.
  • Computer Science graduates nearly doubled over the last four years, surging from 568 in 2015-16 to 1,063 in 2018-19.

Yet significant racial and ethnic disparities in STEM degree attainment persist.

  • Hispanic students made up just 18.8 percent of all STEM graduates in 2018-19, despite comprising 30.2 percent of all enrolled students.
  • Black students earned 23.2 percent of all STEM degrees in 2018-19, while making up 25.2 percent of students.
  • The share of STEM degrees granted to Black students has actually decreased over the past three years, from 23.7 percent in 2015-16 to 23.2 percent in 2018-19, while the share granted to Hispanic students has increased slightly, from 17.8 percent in 2015-16 to 18.8 percent in 2018-19. Asian students earned 33.3 percent of all STEM degrees in 2018-19—up from 29.4 percent in 2015-16—despite making up just 21.2 percent of CUNY’s enrollment.
  • White students earned 24.5 percent of all STEM degrees in 2018-19, down from 28.9 percent in 2015-16, but still higher than their share of overall enrollment (23.1 percent).
  • Only 14.8 percent of computer science graduates were Black and just 16 percent Hispanic in 2018-19, while 21 percent were white and 48 percent were Asian.
  • Only 15.9 percent of Engineering degrees went to Black students and 19.5 percent to Hispanic students, while 38.3 percent went to Asian students and 26.1 percent went to white students.
  • Just 11.1 percent of graduates receiving mathematics degrees in 2018-19 were Black, and just 13.9 percent were Hispanic.


STEM Degrees Granted by Major and Race/Ethnicity, 2018-19
STEM MajorAsianBlackHispanicWhiteTotal Degrees Granted
General Science21.3%39.1%19.2%19.9%1,115
Aggregated Other Sciences25.8%24.0%17.9%32.4%12
Science Total26.5%29.4%16.3%27.6%3,215
Computer Science48.0%14.8%16.0%21.0%1,063
Other CIS37.8%22.9%19.4%19.7%1,699
Technology Total36.4%22.7%21.9%18.9%3,907
Engineering Total38.3%15.9%19.5%26.1%984
Actuarial Science46.2%7.7%3.1%43.1%65
Mathematics Total39.1%11.1%13.9%35.7%907
STEM Total33.3%23.2%18.8%24.5%9,013

STEM degree attainment by women has grown significantly but is still disproportionately low across many disciplines.

  • 40 percent of STEM graduates in 2018-19 were women, even though women make up fully 58 percent of the CUNY student body.
  • Only 22.5 percent of CUNY Engineering degrees were granted to women in 2018-19.
  • Women received just 23.8 percent of all technology degrees granted by CUNY in 2018-19, including just 19.5 percent of all Computer Science degrees.
  • 63.2 percent of all CUNY science degrees were granted to women, with women earning 66.1 percent of all Biology degrees and 68.2 percent of all General Science degrees.
  • Fully 18.2 percent of all CUNY students are Hispanic women, and yet Hispanic women earned just 6.6 percent of all STEM degrees granted in 2018-19.
  • Black women make up 15.5 percent of the CUNY student body but earned just 10.6 percent of all STEM degrees granted in 2018-19.
  • Just 4.3 percent of technology degrees granted in 2018-19 went to Hispanic women.
  • 3.7 percent of CUNY’s 2018-19 Engineering graduates were Black women.

While nearly every college has seen growth in STEM graduates, several community colleges are lagging behind.

  • Kingsborough Community College was the only college in the CUNY system to see a decline in STEM degrees granted over the last four years, declining from 276 students in 2015-16 to 260 students in 2018-19, a 6 percent drop.
  • Hostos Community College, Bronx Community College, Queensborough Community College, and Guttman Community College all recorded minimal growth in STEM graduates, granting just 77 more STEM degrees combined in 2018-19 than four years prior.
  • Together, LaGuardia Community College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College account for 60.4 percent of all STEM graduates at CUNY community colleges.
  • Bronx Community College graduated just 197 students with STEM degrees in 2018-19 (8.7 percent of all community college STEM graduates). Hostos Community College graduated just 96 students with a STEM degree—the fewest of any community college other than the much smaller Guttman, and just 4 percent of all community college STEM graduates.
  • Overall CUNY’s community colleges granted far fewer STEM degrees than did senior colleges in 2018-19—just 2,275 degrees compared to 6,738 at senior colleges.

Over the past decade, CUNY has made significant progress in expanding the number of students who earn a STEM degree. Nearly 10,000 students annually are graduating with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math—opening pathways into some of the most promising careers in New York City’s fastest-growing industries for thousands of students from lower-income backgrounds. But there remains much work to be done to increase the representation of Hispanic, Black, and women students among STEM graduates and to ensure that the striking gains made by a handful of colleges can extend across the entire system. To do so, CUNY will need sustained support from city and state policymakers, business leaders, and leaders in the K-12 system to ensure that even more New Yorkers of all backgrounds can gain the educational credentials and skills needed to access careers in tech, engineering, healthcare, and other industries poised for long-term growth.



Growth in STEM Enrollment and Degrees Granted, 2016-19
College2016 Enrollment2019 EnrollmentEnrollment Growth # (2016-19)Enrollment Growth % (2016-19)2016 Degrees Granted2019 Degrees GrantedDegrees Granted Growth # (2016-19)Degrees Granted Growth % (2016-19)
John Jay1,1501,49234229.7%1291754635.7%
Medgar Evers2,2461,960-286-12.7%27345017764.8%
Staten Island3,1382,939-199-6.3%26736710037.5%
Graduate School751748-3-0.4%23924452.1%
Professional Studies24545621186.1%107868680.0%
Total Senior Colleges31,25134,6993,44811.0%5,0086,7381,73034.5%
Total Community Colleges15,05314,214-839-5.6%1,7392,27553630.8%
Total University46,30448,9132,6095.6%6,7479,0132,26633.6%
Engineering: Growth in Enrollment and Degrees Granted, 2016-19
College2016 Enrollment2019 EnrollmentEnrollment Growth # (2016-19)Enrollment Growth % (2016-19)2016 Degrees Granted2019 Degrees GrantedDegrees Granted Growth # (2016-19)Degrees Granted Growth % (2016-19)
Staten Island525522-3-0.6%43672455.8%
Graduate School000-30-3-100.0%
Total Community Colleges2,0601,777-283-13.7%1902536333.2%
Total Senior Colleges3,5693,031-538-15.1%53673119536.4%
Total University5,6294,808-821-14.6%72698425835.5%
Technology: Growth in Enrollment and Degrees Granted, 2016-19
College2016 Enrollment2019 EnrollmentEnrollment Growth # (2016-19)Enrollment Growth % (2016-19)2016 Degrees Granted2019 Degrees GrantedDegrees Granted Growth # (2016-19)Degrees Granted Growth % (2016-19)
Staten Island780791111.4%741032939.2%
Professional Studies24543118675.9%107868680.0%
John Jay46182836779.6%346834100.0%
Medgar Evers258282249.3%145137264.3%
Graduate School114105-9-7.9%2824-4-14.3%
Total Community Colleges6,7417,3566159.1%8681,14127331.5%
Total Senior Colleges13,02815,8402,81221.6%1,8022,76696453.5%
Total University19,76923,1963,42717.3%2,6703,9071,23746.3%
CUNY STEM Degrees Granted, by College
CollegeShare of all Science DegreesShare of all Tech DegreesShare of all Engineering DegreesShare of all Math DegreesShare of CUNY's STEM Degrees GrantedShare of Total CUNY Degrees Granted
City College11.1%2.6%63.8%7.4%12.8%5.9%
Medgar Evers12.3%1.3%0.0%0.6%5.0%2.2%
Staten Island5.2%2.6%6.8%3.4%4.1%4.9%
Graduate School6.4%0.6%0.0%1.4%2.7%1.7%
John Jay3.3%1.7%0.0%0.0%1.9%7.1%
Professional Studies0.0%2.0%0.0%0.0%0.9%1.4%

Funding for this report was generously provided by BNY Mellon. General operating support for the Center for an Urban Future has been provided by The Clark Foundation and the Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation.