A Bloomberg Bonus for City’s Hidden 20 Percent

New York’s renaissance since the early 1990’s has bene-fited tens of thousands of citizens whose communities are safer, whose schools are better and whose job opportunities are more plentiful. But poverty, regrettably, remains a stubborn fact of life for far too many New Yorkers—about one in five.

The Bloomberg administration has unveiled an innovative plan designed to ease the burdens of New York’s poor and to encourage them with more than just high-minded rhetoric. Cash rewards, up to $5,000 a year, will be made available for selected poor families with school-aged children, as a reward for attendance at school meetings, good grades and other positive achievements. Simply put, City Hall will be using the oldest tool in the world— money—to mobilize people to do the right thing.

The experiment is modeled after similar programs in Latin America; no other city in the United States has attempted it. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s adoption of this unique approach is a sure sign that this administration won’t spend its final two years with its eye on the exit sign, trying to burnish yesterday’s accomplishments. The Mayor came to City Hall as an innovator, and it’s clear he will leave as one.

Indeed, the best part of this program is the private-public partnership that Mr. Bloomberg has forged to help fund it. Of the $50 million in start-up costs, about $42 million has been raised from private sources, including the Starr, Robin Hood and Rockefeller foundations. If the experiment succeeds and is made permanent, it will be funded with taxpayer dollars.

Families making less than $20,000—in the case, say, of a single parent with two children—and with at least one of those children entering the four, seventh or ninth grades, will be eligible for the payments if they live up to their end of the bargain. Parents can earn the bonuses by attending meetings, while students will be rewarded with cash for satisfactory test scores. Several thousand families will be recruited, from some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, to participate.

The programs in place in Latin America are credited with improving school enrollment in countries like Nicaragua and Colombia. At its core, the idea is to break the cycle of poverty and despair in many underserved neighborhoods.

Critics charge that the program is paternalistic and too narrow. Government, they say, should not be trying to micro-manage the everyday decisions of poor families. What’s more, the structural issues of poverty, unemployment and social injustice remain very much in play—cash will not make racism disappear, nor will it guarantee students a job when they get out of school.

But this experiment is hardly designed as a cure-all to everything that ails society. It simply adds an incentive—a much-needed incentive—to encourage behavior that society ought to applaud. Parents who might otherwise avoid conferences with teachers, and students who see no reason to study for an upcoming test, might think twice about their decision under the Bloomberg experiment.

Cash incentives exist for a reason; corporations and business leaders wouldn’t give away bonus money if they didn’t think the extra cash was an incentive to hard work and good decision-making. So why not offer the poor a similar incentive?

N.Y.U. Stuns the Ivies (Again)

Wouldn’t any high-school senior leap at the chance to spend four years coddled in the Ivy halls of Harvard, Yale or Princeton? Not only does one immediately acquire a lifelong set of powerful friends—at least according to myth—but also a running start on the competition when it comes time to land a lucrative job upon graduation.

Apparently, however, those vines of Ivy are looking a bit withered: For the third year in a row, New York University came out on top when the Princeton Review surveyed 4,594 college applicants and asked them: “What ‘dream college’ would you most like to attend, if acceptance or cost weren’t issues?”

N.Y.U.’s first-place finish was trailed by, in order, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Yale, UCLA, Brown, Georgetown and the University of Pennsylvania.

Since 1991, applications to N.Y.U. have more than tripled—to roughly 35,000, more than any other private university in the country—and its admissions rate is now 1 in 8. High-school students understand that the N.Y.U. academic experience rivals that of the Ivies—that it is a university on the rise, rather than an institution content to coast on its reputation. And when you attend N.Y.U., you get two educations for the price of one: You are exposed to leading scholars and a top-notch curriculum, as well as a parallel education that connects you to the amazing array of lectures, concerts, art exhibits and nightlife that only New York City can offer.

N.Y.U. didn’t become a great university by accident. It has benefited from extraordinary leadership, building on a legacy left by Larry Tisch and continued by chairman Martin Lipton and president John Sexton. Several of the world’s greatest professors of economics, math, urban policy, finance and the neurosciences have been recruited. The investment in Washington Square and the surrounding dormitories have helped transform N.Y.U. from a commuter school into an appealing residential campus—and helped transform the area into one of the city’s most lively and enjoyable neighborhoods.

The surge in applications also points to the city’s success in improving the quality of life over the past decade, and illustrates how our safe and clean streets have made an impression far beyond the city’s borders.

Building a great university takes time, and N.Y.U. is clearly a university whose time has come.