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Don't block road to success paved by community college

Recently community colleges in New York have been hit by a double whammy: In his recent budget proposal Mayor Bloomberg proposed $26.5 million in community-college cutbacks as part of an overall planned reduction of $48.1 million in city funding for CUNY.

The cuts will reduce classes, curtail library hours, limit tutors and close computer labs.

And, as reported last week, many banks are now refusing to offer student loans to attendees of two-year schools.

Beset with unrelated problems, the banks are rebelling at the cutback in subsidies and guarantees for these loans, which have a 7.9% default rate, usually due to the tremendous financial burdens carried by the community-college population.

LaGuardia Community College is not affected by the latter development, as we work solely with the Federal Direct Loan Program.

However, the result of this one-two punch for students at two-year community colleges in New York will be devastating.

New York City will see severely reduced educational access at the one place that helps low-income and working-class New Yorkers get ahead.

The proposed budget cuts, and the decision of banks to turn their backs on these students, redlining them in the same way that they used to deny mortgages to low-income homeowners, could not come at a worse possible time, when the economy is going into a tailspin.

As president of LaGuardia Community College, I see on a daily basis the power of education to open doors to the middle class for the more than 50,000 people who study with us each year.

When our students achieve their goals, the return on investment of city dollars is impressive: Family income goes up 17% upon graduation for LaGuardia Community College students.

These students don't need or want a handout, but they do want a hand to help them start their climb up the ladder.

The proposed budget cuts, and inability to get a low-cost loan to begin that difficult path out of poverty or a dead-end job come just when the demand for an affordable, high-quality community college education is at a 30-year record high.

Two things need to be done, and quickly: The Direct Loan Program and similar programs should quickly take over where banks are leaving off before too much damage is done.

Secondly, all concerned citizens should write to the Mayor and the members of the New York City Council, imploring them not to dismantle the ladder to economic progress for our lowest income New Yorkers.

If we don't act now, it could mean the death knell for New York City's middle class, and for future generations of productive, hardworking New Yorkers.

Dr. Gail Mellow is president of LaGuardia Community College and co-author of "Minding the Dream, The Process and Practice of the American Community College."'If we don't act now, it could mean the death knell for the city's middle class.'