I started this program four years ago because I needed to improve in reading, math and especially writing. As an adult you feel embarrassed not knowing certain things, but once you make a move to improve, it works out.”

Maria, CUNY HSE Student, Queens

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Adult reading in a library

The CUNY Adult Literacy ( HSE / ESL ) Program has been a cornerstone of CUNY’s Division of Adult and Continuing Education for more than thirty years. Through the Program, which operates on 14 campuses of the University in all five boroughs, tens of thousands of New York City adults and out-of-school youth have learned to speak English, to read, write and do math with greater facility, and to prepare for high school credentialing through the High School Equivalency exam.

Funded since 1984 through combined New York City and New York State Education Department resources, the Program enrolls nearly 10,000 students a year and is coordinated centrally at the Office of Academic Affairs by a University Director and supported by a staff of professional developers with expertise in Adult Literacy, High School Equivalency (HSE) preparation and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

Types and Levels of Classes

The Adult Literacy Program at 14 campuses of CUNY provides three areas of instruction:

  • English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)
    Designed for immigrants seeking to improve their abilities to speak, understand, read and write the English language, classes are offered at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels.
  • Pre-High School Equivalency (Pre-HSE)
    Enabling students to improve their reading, writing and mathematics skills through an introduction to science, social studies and literature, students will be prepared to enter high school equivalency classes.
  • High School Equivalency (HSE) Preparation
    Students improve their reading, writing and math skills through the content areas of science, social studies and literature as examined on the High School Equivalency (HSE) exam.

What to Expect in CUNY Classes

Although different types and levels of classes are offered in CUNY programs, our classes share certain best practices. These similarities include thematic instruction, a hands-on approach to learning, high expectations for student work, and the development of technology skills.

  • Thematic Instruction
    In CUNY classes, students improve their speaking, reading and writing skills while studying themes or content areas. Themes vary according to the type and level of class. Students in a beginning ESOL class, for example, might focus on the theme of health, learning the names of the parts of the body and the language for describing illness which will help them when they make visits to a doctor or clinic. Students in an intermediate pre-HSE class might study the Bill of Rights to become more familiar with the way the U.S. government works and to prepare them for the content on the high school equivalency test.
  • Hands-on Learning
    CUNY teachers believe that people learn best by doing. To enhance their English speaking skills, students in ESOL classes may be asked to interview community members, make class presentations, and take class trips to important places in the community such as the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Students in pre-HSE and HSE classes can expect to work on projects related to history or science, read whole books, and write often, both in and out of class.
  • High Expectations
    Teachers and administrators at CUNY’s programs know that in order to meet their goals, students must be active participants in their own learning. That is why students entering our programs are asked to make a serious commitment to their education. All programs have attendance policies, and students are expected to come to class regularly and on time, to participate fully in class activities, and to complete homework assignments.
  • Development of Technology Skills
    The development of technology skills is critical for students to achieve their learning, employment, and post-secondary goals. Students in the program work in computer labs or on laptops to apply technology to their learning. Technology instruction in our classes focuses on developing autonomy with technology via classroom projects and extensive self-directed use to better prepare students for the educational and employment opportunities of the 21st century.

Peer Mentoring

Through the CUNY Black Male Initiative (CUNY BMI), the Young Men’s Initiative of New York City (YMI) and the CUNY Service Corps, the CUNY Adult Literacy Program has begun to implement peer mentoring at many of its campus sites. CUNY students in good academic standing serve as tutors and role models at various campus programs, helping HSE/high school equivalency students understand the demands of college and prepare academically. Peer mentoring has proven beneficial for program staff, HSE students, and the peer mentors themselves, who have all learned from each other. Through the presence of mentors, students begin to see themselves as “college material.” Mentors discover hidden strengths, and program staff gain new insight into the student experience. In the coming years, we will continue to grow the peer mentoring component of our programs, which will help us provide students with the supports they need to succeed in college and career pathways.