Entrance to and completion of college are dreams often unachievable to those from the most disadvantaged circumstances, and yet college is a deciding factor in social mobility. Affordability and time flexibility are large barriers. For the past 32 years, an immigrant entrepreneur has owned colleges in New York City, with the dream of providing affordable efficient access to a college education. Leon Lee, who arrived in the United States in the early 70s, has made it his mission to provide college for as many who can attend. It’s a business, and Mr. Lee is the sole shareholder, but his student-first philosophy strives to keep the net cost to his students as low as possible. Tuition is kept as low as possible; classes are scheduled a flexibly as possible—at three locations.
Founded in 1968 (Mr. Lee bought it in 1999), LIBI is a two year business college with locations in Times Square, Flushing, Queens and Commack Long Island. Its mission: turn high school graduates from diverse (and often highly disadvantaged) backgrounds into credentialed business professionals. LIBI offers associate degrees in court reporting, homeland security, office technology, hospitality, accounting and business. The college has awarded thousands of degrees over its half century of history, with a specific focus on keeping the cost of education low and the speed to a degree high.
A college degree is often cited as the ticket into the middle class, with the BLS noting that an associate degree adds 17% to hourly income, on average versus a high school diploma. Across a 40 year career, that’s a quarter million dollars. Moreover, the degree cuts unemployment probability by 27%.
With these statistics in mind, the college known as “LIBI” (founded as the Long Island Business Institute) has operated within New York City for 51 years with the mission of creating middle class opportunities for those least served by the traditional education system. LIBI offers 6 business-focused associate degree programs, ranging from accounting to court reporting, with relevance to the New York City and international job market, as well as pathways to 17 local colleges for further study.
LIBI’s mission is to provide low cost access to these students and thus as high a return on investment as possible. Serving those who face the highest risk of failing to complete a degree are where LIBI excels. Typical risk factors include national origin, marital and parental status English proficiency, and low family income. Turning one of these students from a risky situation into a college graduate—with as low a net cost as possible—is LIBI’s goal.
Mr. Lee, himself a beneficiary of the “American Dream”, enjoys the challenge of providing as strong a chance at a middle class lifestyle as possible while keeping the cost to the students low. To this end, he has not instituted a tuition increase in over 11 years, and got a great kick out of advertising the fact that fewer than 5% of LIBI graduates leave with student loans.
Mr. Lee actually is thrilled about being among the low cost competitors in New York, while not sacrificing quality at the institution, which has a higher graduation rate than the local community colleges. When the State of New York instituted its much-heralded Excelsior scholarship program for high-achieving students, Mr. Lee introduced his own competing scholarship of up to $2000 to close the gap between student financial aid and the tuition price, making the school effectively no net cost to qualified students.
Efficiency is also a hallmark of LIBI, as students can complete the associate degree in 15 months, a full 6-9 months sooner than the typical associate degree. The college recently instituted weekend classes as well as a direct partnership with Concordia College in Westchester, through which LIBI students can complete a bachelor degree entirely at LIBI’s Times Square campus.
The college is in the process of expanding, with the four year programs having launched this year and new programs being contemplated.