Baruch is one of CUNY's senior colleges, and traces its roots back to the founding of the Free Academy, the first institution of free public higher education in the United States. The New York State Literature Fund was created to serve students who could not afford to enroll in New York City’s private colleges. The Fund led to the creation of the Committee of the Board of Education of the City of New York, led by Townsend Harris, J.S. Bosworth, and John L. Mason, which brought about the establishment of what would become the Free Academy, on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.
The Free Academy became the College of the City of New York, now The City College of New York (CCNY). In 1919, what would become Baruch College was established as City College School of Business and Civic Administration. On December 15, 1928, the cornerstone was laid on the new building which would house the newly founded school. At this point, the school did not admit women. At the time it opened it was considered the biggest such school for the teaching of business education in the United States.
By the 1930s, women were allowed into the School of Business. The total enrollment at CCNY reached an all-time high of 40,000 students in 1935, and the School of Business had an enrollment of more than 1,700 students in the day session alone. Most were Jewish and Italian immigrants, who could not afford to attend private universities. The School of Business was renamed the Baruch School in 1958 in honor of alumnus Bernard Baruch, a statesman and financier. In 1961, the New York State Education Law established the City University of New York (CUNY) system and, in 1968, Baruch College became a senior college in the City University system.
In the CUNY years, Baruch grew drastically and for a time, CUNY considered relocating the college to Harlem to allow for expansion. The idea was later dropped, and the college acquired property on East 24th Street in Manhattan to expand its campus. The first president of the new college (1969–1970) was the previous Federal Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Robert C. Weaver. In 1971, the college appointed Clyde Wingfield, a noted educator, as its president. He was succeeded by economist Joel Edwin Segall in 1977. Segall recruited several well-known faculty members to the School of Business and established the college's permanent home on Lower Lexington Avenue. Current CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein was president of the school from 1991 to 1998. He was responsible for raising admissions requirements and creating the School of Public Affairs in 1994. Edward Regan, former comptroller of New York state, served as president from 2000 to 2004. During his tenure, test scores rose, student retention rates increased, and many new faculty members were hired. In 2001, the Vertical Campus opened and Baruch accepted its first students from the CUNY Honors College, now known as the Macaulay Honors College. The college also implemented a common core curriculum for all undergraduates.
Kathleen Waldron was appointed president in 2004. Under her leadership, the quality of students continued to rise and faculty hiring accelerated. Baruch also received an unprecedented number of donations from alumni, with the Vertical Campus, 23rd Street building, and Performing Arts complex renamed in honor of the three largest donors, respectively. Alumni giving has increased under "Baruch Means Business," a $150 million capital campaign. In August 2009, Waldron resigned from her position to become a University Professor at the Graduate Center. Stan Altman, former dean of the School of Public Affairs from 1999 to 2005, was named interim president.
On February 22, 2010, Dr. Mitchel Wallerstein, Dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, was appointed as the next President of Baruch College. He took office on August 2, 2010.
Baruch was the scene of massive student protests in 2011 as a result of tuition hikes. This resulted in arrests, serious injuries, and a hospitalization.
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