Education Yields Social and Economic Riches

April 1, 2004 | CUNY Matters Columns

Of late I have had many opportuni ties to talk about CUNY’s successes in improving its standards, enrollment, and retention. Our academic programs are expanding, we are hiring more faculty, and we have a highly successful Honors College now in its third year.

But I think it is important to place CUNY in a broader context–one that illustrates just how important CUNY is city- and state-wide. Recently I testified before the New York State Assembly Way and Means and Senate Finance Committees on the upcoming capital budget. It was a challenge to describe the full force of this university’s educational, cultural and economic contributions. Still, a few statistics can convey some sense of CUNY’s impact.

In its roles as educator and employer, CUNY touches the lives of a great many New Yorkers. Last year CUNY enrolled about 450,000 students in its degree, and adult and continuing education programs. In Fall 2003, 45 percent of all of the college students in the City of New York were attending CUNY. That alone is a testament to our vital role in helping students climb the educational and economic ladder to success. The students we serve could not get a quality education, at the hours that suit them, in the boroughs where they live, at a competitive price, from any other educational entity.

Since the mid-1960s, CUNY has produced over 800,000 graduates. CUNY awards almost 9,000 associate degrees, about 14,600 bachelors degrees, and about 6,400 masters degrees each year. A conservative estimate suggests that at least one-third of college-educated New Yorkers are CUNY graduates. We know that the vast majority of our alumni remain in the City of New York after graduation, contributing to the local economy and to their communities. Since 1995, more than 16,400 of our alumni earned undergraduate degrees in computer-related fields and more than 8,800 students graduated from nursing programs (undergraduate and graduate). These two fields alone represent essential areas of commerce and social service in New York.

Students entering the labor force with CUNY degree in hand earn much more than high school graduates and are much more likely to remain employed. Median salaries for employees who have completed an associate’s degree are $7,787 higher than those of high school graduates. For bachelor’s degree recipients the differential is $16,322. Each graduating class (including all undergraduate and graduate degree recipients) earns $618.5 million more in its first year after graduation than it would have earned with just a high school diploma. This increment in earnings is due both to the higher salaries and to the lower unemployment rates associated with educational attainment. Once again, this increased income contributes to the tax base of New York State.

The University also serves about 40,500 high school students through the College Now Program and another 8,000 in CUNY-affiliated high schools. About 62 percent of CUNY first-time freshmen come from New York City public high schools. The long-term positive impact of early exposure to college on high school students’ future attendance is well documented. The increased likelihood of college attendance for those high school students involved in College Now and other early intervention programs predicts greater advancement and income for them.

As a major employer and purveyor, CUNY generates a large amount of economic activity through its purchase of goods and services, construction activity and salaries paid. For example, every $100 million used in the construction of projects for the City University employs over one thousand construction-related personnel and purchases building materials from state and local vendors. In fiscal year 2002 these direct expenditures totaled $2.2 billion, which created another $1.7 billion in additional indirect earnings.

Finally, the University currently employs 31,000 people, who pay taxes and use local goods and services. Of that number, nearly 63 percent are instructional staff. At a time when nationally there is a 5 percent decline in the number of tenured professors, CUNY is deeply committed to increasing the number of full-time professors in the classroom. Faculty tend to remain at the college at which they teach for many years, and all that time they are taxpayers and consumers, in addition to the cultural contribution they make to our neighborhood communities.

All of these statistics fall short of describing the personal and powerful effect CUNY has on individual lives. One of the most engaging demonstrations of that impact can be found on CUNY TV’s program “Study With the Best,” which frequently features segments highlighting the development and outcome of one-on-one relationships and mentoring between professors and students (Sundays at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Channel 75). It’s those kinds of relationships that are formed every day at CUNY, and they make up the backbone of our special brand of education.

I know that the Legislature strongly supports the very best education possible, as do I. With your continued and enhanced support, CUNY will have the resources to make an enormous difference in the lives of New Yorkers locally, statewide, and globally for many years to come.