JFK, Jr. Institute for Worker Education

In 2000, Reaching Up, a non-profit organization founded by John F. Kennedy, Jr. joined with the City University of New York (CUNY) to establish the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Institute for Worker Education. This public/private partnership serves as a vehicle to carry on the work that John F. Kennedy, Jr. started, to support the higher education and career advancement of frontline workers in health and human services occupations. In 2007, the Institute was housed in the Office of the University Dean for Health and Human Services. In 2015, it was incorporated into the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS). Learn more about John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s “CUNY Connection.”


The John F. Kennedy, Jr. Institute supports workforce development initiatives in health and human services fields. The Institute collaborates with CUNY SPS and other CUNY colleges, public and private employers, organized labor, professional associations, advocacy groups, community organizations, foundations and government agencies to:

  • Conduct policy relevant research in healthcare and human services
  • Advocate for health and educational benefits, and a living wage for frontline staff
  • Provide professional development and college scholarships to exemplary frontline workers
  • Align academic programs in nursing and other health professions with healthcare reform
  • Develop credited career ladder certificates and interdisciplinary degree programs in emerging fields of study such as disability studies and youth studies
  • Design and implement research and demonstration projects that support transition-aged youth with disabilities

Recent Projects

Recent projects include: issuing a policy brief on the decriminalization of youth with disabilities; researching the educational pathways of unionized healthcare workers at CUNY; expanding career ladder opportunities in nursing for incumbent healthcare workers; developing programs that support the professional development of practitioners at youth-serving agencies; and improving access to higher education for youth with disabilities.

White Papers

Dr. William Ebenstein, JFK, Jr. Institute Fellow and former Director, shares an analysis of the historical, cultural, and contextual interpretations on aging in his 2022 white paper entitled "The Vocabulary of Aging Studies."

The JFK, Jr. Institute issued a white paper on Decriminalizing Youth with Disabilities that was based in part on a three-year follow-up evaluation of its federally funded Youth Transition and Demonstration Project.

Health Workforce Research

In their published report, the JFK, Jr. Institute conducted research to identify the patterns of enrollment and graduation of members of 1199SEIU United Health Workers East at CUNY. Reaching Up and the 1199SEIU Training and Employment Funds funded the study.

Expanding Career Ladder Opportunities in Nursing

The JFK, Jr. Institute led in the development of a new online RN to BS program at CUNY SPS, the first online degree of its kind at CUNY. Subsequently, the Institute received funding from the NYS Department of Health to provide scholarships and professional development to incumbent RNs enrolled in the program.

Family Development Credential (FDC): Professional Development for Children, Youth, and Family Workers

The NYC Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) has partnered with the JFK, Jr. Institute to build the capacity of human services agencies and community-based organizations by offering the Family Development Credential (FDC) and FDC for Leaders to staff. DYCD provides scholarships for the training and ongoing professional development offered by CUNY.

For more information about FDC in NYC, please contact Carrie Shockley.

Access to Postsecondary Programs for Youth with Intellectual Disabilities

The JFK, Jr. Institute is a partner in a federally funded grant Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) which establishes a consortium of five CUNY schools to assist students with intellectual disabilities earn a “meaningful credential” recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The project is a collaboration of the Institute, the CUNY Central Office of Disability Services, the University of Rochester’s Institute for Innovative Transition, the developmental disabilities agency AHRC New York City, and District 75 of the NYC Department of Education.