In the days when top-flight private schools were restricted to the children of the Protestant Establishment, thousands of brilliant individuals attended City College because they had no other option. CCNY's academic excellence and status as a working-class school earned it the title "Harvard of the Proletariat." Even today, after three decades of relative mediocrity, no other public college has produced as many Nobel laureates.
In its heyday through the 1930s and 50s, CCNY became known for its political radicalization. It was said that CCNY was the place for arguments between Trotskyites and Stalinists.
In the late 1960s, black and Puerto Rican activists and their liberal allies demanded that City College implement an aggressive affirmative action program. The administration of CCNY balked at the idea, but instead came up with an open-admissions program under which any graduate of a NYC high school could matriculate. The program opened doors to college to many who would not otherwise have been able to attend college, but came at the cost of City College's academic standing and NYC's fiscal health.
City College began charging admissions in the 1970s and abandoned open admissions in the 1990s. City College's campus is on a hill overlooking Harlem, its impressive neo-gothic campus was mostly designed by G.W. Post.