This article is the first in a series about Haitian-Americans in New York City pursuing degrees in career and technical education, supported by the Institute for Citizens and Scholars. The first installment looks at what programs are in place to help immigrants receive credit from previous work and educational experience back in Haiti. Future installments will examine a lack of funding for institutions serving communities of color and the struggles Haitian immigrants face while attending night classes at community colleges.
NEW YORK — When Dugue Dumond first arrived in Brooklyn from Haiti 31 years ago, he worked full-time as the manager of a furniture store in Flatbush, attended Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach, a 45-minute bus ride away, and constantly felt stressed to provide for his daughter, then five.
Dumond’s program at Kingsborough was supposed to take two years to complete. He finished in four years instead, as he juggled a full-time job and a child.
“I did not know I could use the credits from home and learned that later after leaving school,” said Dumond, now 63. “It would have taken me less time to study and getting credits would have helped me big time.”
It is common for immigrants from all over the world, including Haiti, to pursue degrees in career and technical fields at universities like the City University of New York (CUNY). Experts say two-year degrees are a popular decision for many immigrants because they expedite the length of time in college and enable people to get a job more quickly.
However, many Haitians, like Dumond, do not yet know where there are programs in place, including at CUNY, to help them transfer prior college credit. Other unique barriers also remain in place for newly arriving immigrants to pursue any form of higher education in the U.S. A report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy showed Black immigrants are likely to be non-traditional students, with 43% aged 30 or older. To address the barriers for immigrants, the report recommended having localized and targeted activities toward specific groups in need since each group’s need varies.
The latter is what some colleges, like Dumond’s alma mater, are starting to recognize and address.
“There’s a problem with articulation of credits from other institutions in general, and I think it’s even worse when it comes from other countries,” said Katie Brown, founder and chief education officer at EnGen.
Career and technical education (CTE) in the US and New York
According to the Perkins Collaborative Research Network (PCRN), career and technical education, or CTE, programs received $1.3 billion in federal grant awards in Fiscal Year 2021. In New York State, these programs received nearly $60 million.
For individuals who have associates degrees and work in technical professions, statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show, the annual salaries range from $30,000 to upwards of $80,000. The median salary is $55,000.
Currently, CUNY has 10 schools within its system offering two-year degrees in a variety of fields, including construction management technology and medical imaging.
A study from the Migration Policy Institute looking at immigrants in the workforce showed that growing professions, referred to as “jobs of the future,” will include middle-skilled workers, particularly those who have received vocational schooling or an associates degree. Seven percent of the 44.9 million immigrants in the U.S. have obtained an associates degree.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 1.09 million immigrants in the U.S. have enrolled in some college or received an associates degree. In New York, this number is 80,612. As of last year, one-third of all national community college students were of immigrant origin, according to a report from the American Journal of Economics and Sociology.
Switching to new models of credit evaluation
Dumond left Haiti in 1985, a year before dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier was ousted, because his outspoken criticism of the country’s repressive landscape left him no choice.
His decision to pursue a two-year degree at Kingsborough Community College in broadcast management and technology set him on an upward path for success, he said. He was also surprised to meet several of his former students from Haiti at Kingsborough as well.
After receiving his two-year degree in 1994, he transferred to Brooklyn College, where he ultimately received a master’s degree in television, radio and emerging media in 1999. He said starting with a two-year degree was instrumental in him wanting to take on other ventures, including founding his own tax preparation company, Dugue & Associates.
“I was able to move up with more skills and was able to get a better job,” he said. “A two-year degree will put your feet in the door and allow you to move up the ladder.”
When Dumond arrived in the U.S., federal and individual college transfer systems were just starting to be established. The National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) was established in 1987 to help individuals with international education evaluate their credits. In 2017, CUNY established DegreeWorks, which has a tool that enables prospective students to see how their credits would transfer into the university’s system.
Global Talent Bridge, a program from World Education Services launched in 2012, works with colleges and organizations to help immigrants transfer their skills and prior college courses to higher education in the U.S., instead of having to start over and pursue a GED.
“We work to ensure that immigrants, like somebody coming from Haiti who had been an elementary school teacher, understand what paths are available to them to reclaim that occupation in the U.S.,” said Debra Means, director of Resource and Network Development at Global Talent Bridge. “Instead of working as a taxi cab driver or a barista, we want to make sure that they understand that there are ways for them to move forward.”
Other organizations are advocating different processes to help evaluate one’s previous work or educational experience.
Brown, of EnGen, said, “We need to move to a Credit for Prior Learning framework, where people can show they demonstrate competency in an area and get credit for that.”
Brown said that the current transfer credit systems in place at various organizations and colleges throughout the country need to become less bureaucratic in order for immigrant students to better assimilate into the American education system.
“When you have kids, rent to pay, and at least one job, fitting school on top of that is really complex and we need to remove all of the artificial, logistical barriers,” she said. “Navigating the enrollment process and credit for prior learning all take hours of time and can seem like an insurmountable obstacle to an adult learner who’s trying to get a credential or degree.”
Transferring from Haiti
While New York State does not currently have specific programs in place for students transferring from Haiti, some four-year universities across the country do. The University of Oregon requires immigrants who attended high school in Haiti to achieve a certain threshold on the country’s grading scale, as well as meeting certain English language requirements.
However, accessing high school transcripts could prove difficult, as natural disasters like earthquakes have destroyed schools in the past. In addition, various education organizations and unions within the country have faced continued disruption and school shutdowns as a result of gang violence.
In the CUNY system, Haitians might have their credits from back home rejected for different reasons, including the school determining there is no equivalent course or a low grade.
CUNY, which includes Kingsborough Community College where Dumond attended, is one of the school systems in the country implementing a Credit for Prior Learning program (CPL).
Under this program, CUNY universities have a variety of processes in place to determine a prospective student’s skill level to allow them to study a particular field, including a portfolio assessment.
“Our central CUNY location offers the option for students to send in their transcripts from their home country, along with a certified translation, to confirm how many years of studies the student has completed,” said Erica Levy, director of admissions at Kingsborough. “We make sure that we’re diligent and reaching out to students, so we can maximize their transfer credit potential.”
Schools like the New York City College of Technology City Tech use a tool called Evaluate My Transfer Credit, which allows prospective students to see which classes they could potentially receive credit for.
LaGuardia Community College in Queens has an official evaluation that is conducted by an office, with a maximum of 30 previous credits allowed to be counted toward a program and up to 50% of credits toward a specific certificate.
In addition, CUNY also has block-by-block class scheduling systems at some locations, which allow students who might be parents and/or working full-time to choose a convenient slot of time in which to attend their classes. With such a program, former students like Dumond might not have had to bring his daughter to school.
Other Haitians who studied career and technical education at Kingsborough said a two-year degree in career and technical education was a great decision that helped them gain solid employment afterwards.
“Technical education is amazing, because with all the tech jobs that are available now, it makes you mobile,” said Edwin Toussaint, who studied UX Design at Kingsborough in 2021. “This program gave me a lot of skill sets where I help businesses start up and I’m glad to see most of my clients are Haitian.”
Despite a difficult and hectic experience adjusting to the American education system, Dumond said he is grateful for his decision and actively strives to keep in touch with both the diaspora and people in the country he left behind nearly 40 years ago through his show on Apple Podcasts, “Piquing our brains.”
“I do radio to stay connected to the Haitian community and provide them with news about what’s going on in Haiti,” he said. “It has been a great experience and I live a decent life because of my education.”