Harlem’s Columbia Opens Doors To Opportunity

February 16, 2022

By most accounts, Columbia University is considered to be the largest private landowner in New York City with hundreds of real estate addresses located primarily in the borough of Manhattan.

Of course being the largest landowner with a continuing need to expand its research facilities on an overly crowded island such as Manhattan, means a rocky, even contentious relationship with your neighbors.  In recent years Columbia moved forward with its first major expansion in over a hundred years, the Manhattanville Research Campus. When the expansion plan was introduced to its West Harlem neighbors back in 2004, the community was naturally resentful, as lifetime residents and businesses were forced to leave or sell and relocate elsewhere.

Opportunities Abound

Today, with three buildings completed and expansion continuing, Columbia has done much to erase past ill will by being the good neighbor it had always intended, and opening wide the doors of opportunity to the community.  They have ensured that 35% of the dollars allocated for construction costs are targeted to local businesses, and 40% of the entire workforce, including women and minorities, come from the community.  For those without the necessary OSHA certification required for working construction in the US, Columbia has even set up free classes to become certified.  

Columbia has launched many initiatives to serve those in need within the Harlem community.  Free shuttles for the disabled and elderly to get to medical services are available daily, while community access to university facilities is regularly granted.  Columbia has also created a community scholars program that offers the university’s services and numerous resources to help scholars from the surrounding area to complete academic or work related projects or acquire new skills that will benefit their community.  Columbia Community Service has committed countless millions in grant funds to numerous non profit organizations in Harlem that support health, education, hunger, the environment, literacy, to name just a few, and offers valuable volunteer opportunities for its students and faculty. 

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Meeting Student Needs

Though Columbia has poured millions back into the local community, the University’s true gift has been its commitment to education for All.  Each of Columbia’s specialized schools within the university system accepts those who demonstrate excellence blind to whether they can afford it.  This means that if you qualify, you are accepted no matter your socioeconomic status. According to their financial aid department, Columbia is committed to giving 100% of what is Needed to every student. If a student needs a full scholarship, it is awarded. If they need money to cover just room and board, it is awarded.  Whatever the need, it is covered.  As a result Columbia is number one in the country for scholarships, aid, and grants, spending millions for this purpose, knowing their investment in human capital is priceless.  Students are able to make the most of their academic experience without being encumbered by financial worries. 

Columbia recognizes that to attract the best, it must nurture the best. In many underserved communities, secondary schools lack those resources to help their students adequately prepare for higher learning and navigate the college applications maze.  Students, who may be first in their families to go to college, can find the process overwhelming and discouraging.  Once these students are accepted into college, they don’t always have the skills to be successful.  Columbia has reached out to these students with its LearningSuccess initiative, a free comprehensive program that teaches students how to be successful lifelong learners.  The online course is available to anyone, even adult learners who have been away from school for some time, and offers a wide range of topics from study skills to academic reading, writing, technical studies, and more. 

A Global Reach

Columbia University has a worldwide reputation as an institution of academic excellence. As part of the university’s desire to be inclusive for all and blind to financial need, the university also offers a comprehensive online learning platform for all of its schools.  Columbia long ago recognized the power of online learning knowing its reach would inspire learners across the globe.  

Many of the courses, certifications, and degrees offered online are wholly unique to Columbia as other universities scramble to catch up. Columbia has always recognized that people have a great desire to learn and improve themselves, but still have their lives to live.  Nighttime courses and weekend classes were scheduled to accommodate full time working students desirous of earning their degrees prior to the inception of the internet.  Today, online instruction has revolutionized the accessibility of degrees and certifications for the full time worker.  From its undergrad schools to its graduate programs, third party courses have been designed to make learning and degree attainment accessible. No matter what your interests, from advanced algebra to calculus 1, 2, or 3 (here’s a Math UN1101 prep course, for example), computer programming, sciences, history, or even engineering, it’s available. The graduate schools also offer numerous degree programs and certifications online. 

Columbia University has always been a leader in education. What makes it stand apart from other universities is its commitment to diversity, inclusivity, volunteerism, and excellence.  This commitment is not just limited to those members within its doors, for Columbia has opened its doors to serve the greater community beyond, bringing new jobs and opportunities, social programs and academics, and offering support and resources where they are needed the most.  

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