Testimony, New York City Preliminary Budget

March 10, 2006 | News from the Chancellor, Speeches and Testimony

Good morning, Chairperson Weprin and Chairperson Barron, members of the Finance and Higher Education committees, staff, and guests. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about The City University of New York and the FY 2007 Preliminary Budget. We are grateful to all of you for your strong and longstanding advocacy of CUNY and public higher education, and we look forward to working with the council to ensure our continued progress.

With your help, CUNY has taken great strides in meeting our academic goals. This past fall, the University recorded its highest student enrollments in 30 years. We now serve over 220,000 degree-credit students and more than 250,000 adult and continuing education students-the highest number in CUNY’s history. We have proved that raising academic standards results in more students, better prepared, and greater shares of students from select public high schools. Award-winning students are competing successfully in state, national, and international arenas. The new CUNY Graduate School of Journalism will open in Fall 2006. Alumni are returning home, as demonstrated most recently by Intel co-founder Andrew Grove’s $26 million gift to City College and last week’s $7 million scholarship gift to CCNY by Yvette and Larry Gralla. The $1.2 billion Campaign for the CUNY Colleges, launched in November 2004, has already recorded more than $700 million in gifts.

These accomplishments have required the efforts of the entire University, including CUNY’s Board of Trustees, the college presidents and staff, and, most especially, our accomplished students, faculty, and alumni. Our community colleges have been leaders in this resurgence; they have recorded a 17 percent increase in new students from 2001 to 2005 and are managing the programs and services needed to support and challenge our students. Through our Community College Investment Program, we have also added 300 full-time faculty to strengthen the colleges’ scope and depth.

However, meeting the needs of our burgeoning student body remains a challenge. The City Preliminary Budget for FY 2007 recommends city support for the community colleges of $137.3 million, which is $19.3 million less than the recommended FY 2006 budget. At a time when the University is focused on growth, long-term investment, and continued academic renewal, this proposed reduction is particularly discouraging.

As you know, this year CUNY recommended a fresh approach to financing long-term investment in the University: the CUNY Compact. The Compact calls for funding to be shared by the state and the city, the University (through internal efficiencies), philanthropic sources, and students, through managed enrollment growth and modest, predictable tuition increases. The plan asks the state and the city to commit to fully funding the University’s mandatory costs and a portion of the programmatic priorities in our four-year academic plan. The revenue from the increased tuition would go exclusively toward funding the CUNY investment initiatives-with recommendations from CUNY students and faculty-as would the philanthropic dollars and resources from internal efficiencies.

The CUNY compact was unanimously adopted this past November by our Board of Trustees, and its approach has been praised by national education leaders and lauded by many state officials. It offers a way to match our long-term academic plan to a long-term financial plan.

Increased city support for CUNY’s community colleges through the compact is critical to the University. Only with the city’s investment in public higher education at CUNY can we trigger investments from other sources; only if the city makes public higher education a public priority can we expect other partners to do the same. Our students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and business partners have demonstrated renewed and generous support of the University, but we cannot expect them to shoulder a disproportionate share of funding this public institution.

To that end, we must address the Preliminary Budget’s recommended reduction in the community colleges’ operating budget of $14.8 million. The reduction was restored by the council and the mayor on a one-time basis in FY 2006, and we are requesting a permanent restoration to our budget. This reduction strikes a blow to our community colleges’ very operations, affecting their ability to offer classes when students need them and to increase the percentage of instruction taught by full-time faculty.

Indeed, ensuring that these most basic needs are met is at the heart of our proposed compact, wherein the state and the city would cover the University’s mandatory costs, allowing the University to focus on its programmatic initiatives. We ask the council’s help in restoring these reductions and in enhancing operational support of CUNY by $12.0 million. This funding will cover mandatory needs such as energy, building rentals, and fringe benefits, as well as provide the resources required to meet the priorities outlined in the University’s Master Plan, including additional full-time faculty and academic and library support.

We are also deeply concerned about, and opposed to, the proposed reductions of $11.4 million for the Peter F. Vallone City Council Scholarships and $4.5 million for the New York City Council Safety Net Program, which would eliminate both programs.

In 2004-05, more than 10,000 CUNY students received Vallone Scholarships. These scholarships-given to students who graduated with a B average from New York City high schools and who maintain that B average at the University-encourage high-achieving students to stay in New York City to continue their education. In 2004-05, over 13,500 of our most needy community college students received funding from the Safety Net Program, helping them to continue their advanced studies at CUNY.

A loss of these programs, combined with the state’s proposal to reduce financial assistance through the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)-which was relied on by approximately 83,000 CUNY students last year-would create an enormous burden on our most vulnerable students. The recommendations target those who are most deserving of help, often those who are already affected by federal financial aid policies that increasingly depend on loans instead of grants. Our first priority must be to protect qualified students who cannot afford to attend college.

When I first proposed CUNY’s compact, I emphasized that this partnership would work only if our most needy students were held out of harm’s way-that is, if their financial assistance protected them from even modest tuition increases. We simply must strengthen our commitment to scholarship and assistance programs if we are to maintain the promise of educational opportunity upon which so many students depend.

CUNY also faces the challenge, shared by universities across the country, of increasing the number and proficiency of students in science, math, and nursing programs. Nationally and locally, we depend more than ever upon the expertise and innovation of graduates in these fields. As evidenced at the Feb. 27, 2006, hearing, skillfully conducted by the New York City Council Higher Education Committee, this problem has far-reaching effects on our city and its population. At the culmination of the hearing, Chairperson Barron called for the University to encourage participation in these disciplines by proposing a stipend/scholarship program for students majoring in math, science, and nursing. To that end, we request an enhancement to the Preliminary Budget of $7 million in order to create a much-needed City Council Science, Mathematics, and Nursing Scholarship Initiative, through which we can offer financial assistance for students in good standing who major in these areas.

Growing enrollments have created additional challenges in providing student services at the community colleges. Many service programs have not had funding increases for many years, and rising demand has created a tremendous strain on these areas. We are asking for a $3 million enhancement for counseling, student health centers, child care, women’s programs, and other student services. We know that it is often these vital programs that enable students to complete their studies in a timely way.

I must also note that the Preliminary Budget eliminates funding for important initiatives across the University, including the Black Male Initiative, which is already under way throughout CUNY, the Center for Worker Education, the Dominican Studies Institute, the Puerto Rican Studies Institute, the Creative Arts Team, the Immigration Center, and many others. These programs and centers serve thousands of students, faculty, and community members, providing opportunities, often for underserved communities, to gain access to advanced study and career development, and we ask that their funding be restored.

On the capital side, last year the University was very pleased to receive, for the first time, a multi-year appropriation from the city. We know that your support and recommendations were very influential in the mayor’s decision to make that important appropriation, and we are grateful for your work on the University’s behalf.

As you know, we received multi-year appropriations from the state in 1998 and 2003 for the community colleges and Medgar Evers College. These commitments to five-year capital plans allow the University to plan and implement building projects with certainty, something that is not possible when funding assurances are limited to the existing budget year. Additionally, we greatly appreciate the support CUNY receives each year through appropriations directly from the City Council and Borough Presidents.

At this time, the capital program for the community colleges and Medgar Evers College totals $602 million. Even with this substantial program, however, the colleges’ capital needs are not met. In particular, we need $14 million for two specific projects: the replacement of Fiterman Hall for Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and the construction of Academic Building I at Medgar Evers College. These additional funds are necessary to address higher estimates for the cost of demolition and hazardous materials abatement at Fiterman Hall-which we will be taking down in very controlled increments-and to address cost escalations impacting the construction industry, further exacerbated by the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the reconstruction efforts in the Gulf region.

During recent discussions with the state legislature, the University was encouraged to anticipate additional funds from the state this year. Our request includes $29 million that will be distributed across the community colleges for projects at the campuses, including continued work on Center 3 at LaGuardia Community College, the Science Building at Queensborough Community College, and the Chambers Street Building at BMCC. At Kingsborough, Bronx, and Hostos community colleges, the funds will address mechanical infrastructure issues.

The University has requested $107.6 million in FY 2007 in construction and equipment projects for both the senior and community colleges from the City Council and Borough Presidents. These funds are requested for “quality of life” projects, including renovations of classrooms, laboratories, and study and community spaces throughout the campuses, as well as site improvements and technology upgrades.

The city’s match of the new state funds being requested is critical to our ability to move forward on these projects. Our community colleges and Medgar Evers College serve more than 51,000 full-time equivalent students in 112 buildings comprising more than 7.1 million gross square feet-and substantial commitments are required to maintain physical plants of this size.

Providing our students and faculty with well-equipped facilities, as well as the programs and academic support they need, is fundamental to CUNY’s mission. Chairperson Barron, Chairperson Weprin, and members of the committees, we deeply appreciate all you have done to assist us in this regard, and we look forward to continuing to build on that productive partnership. Thank you.